During the COVID-19 pandemic, the prevalence of psychological distress rose from 11% in 2019 to more than 40% in 2020. This study aims to examine the disparities among US adult men and women.
We used 21 waves of cross-sectional data from the Household Pulse Survey that were collected between April and December 2020 for the study. The Household Pulse Survey was developed by the U.S. Census Bureau to document the social and economic impact of COVID-19.
The study population included four groups of adults: emerging adults (18-24 years); young adults (25-44 years); middle-aged adults (45-64 years); and older adults (65-88 years). Psychological distress was measured by their Generalized Anxiety Disorder score and the Patient Health Questionnaire. The prevalence of psychological stress was calculated using logistic models adjusted for socio-demographic variables including race/ethnicity, education, household income, and household structure. All descriptive and regression analysis considered survey weights.
Younger age groups experienced higher prevalence of psychological distress than older age groups. Among emerging adults, the prevalence of anxiety (42.6%) and depression (39.5%) was more than twice as high as older adults who experienced prevalence of anxiety at 20% and depression at 16.6%. Gender differences were also more apparent in emerging adults. Women between 18 and 24 years reported higher differential rates of anxiety and depression than those with men (anxiety: 43.9% vs. 28.3%; depression: 33.3% vs. 24.9%).
Understanding the complex dynamics between COVID-19 and psychological distress has emerged as a public health priority. Mitigating the negative mental health consequences associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, for younger generations and females in particular, will require local efforts to rebuild capacity for social integration and social connection.

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