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University of Arkansas studies show pandemic affects depression, anxiety and fear



FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – University of Arkansas sociologists conducted research early on in the spread of COVID-19 and found that it is leading to an increase in suicidal thoughts and other psychological trauma.

Researchers have sought to better understand the sociological and psychological effects of the pandemic through an internet survey distributed in the last week of March that 10,368 adults participated in from across the country.

Kevin Fitzpatrick, University Professor of sociology and first author of the studies, says the common denominator in the research’s findings is fear.

“Fear is a pretty consistent predictor,” Fitzpatrick said. “What we found is that fear, coupled with a range of social vulnerabilities, consistently and significantly predict a range of mental health outcomes.

Additionally, as originally hypothesized, it appears as though individual fear is higher in those places where there is a higher concentration of confirmed COVID-19 cases and/or a higher death rate.”

In a study published in the journal Anxiety and Depression focusing on depressive symptoms, Fitzpatrick and his colleagues Casey Harris, associate professor of sociology, and Grant Drawve, assistant professor of sociology, found that on average, survey respondents scored one point higher than the cutoff for clinical significance on a commonly used depression scale.

They also discovered that nearly a third of those surveyed were significantly above that level.

In a second study on suicidal thoughts, behaviors and actions published in the journal Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, the researchers found that 15 percent of all respondents fell under a high risk category for suicide.

The third study, published in the journal Psychological Trauma, focused on fear and mental health consequences of the pandemic. Respondents were asked how fearful they were of COVID-19 on a scale of one-to-10 and the average answer was seven.

However, researchers found that the fear of the disease and its consequences is not evenly distributed throughout the country. They concluded it was highest in areas with a greater concentration of COVID-19 cases and among the most socially vulnerable groups.

“Now is the time to learn the lessons about this pandemic,” said Fitzpatrick. “This needs to be a teaching moment for us all. It or something like it will come along again, and we need to be better prepared for it, making sure that science is front and center, and not politics, with a careful eye on who are the most vulnerable and how can we do a better job of protecting them.”