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Perceived Mental Health Impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic

Sep 1, 2022

Danielle Rhubart

Danielle Rhubart

In this paper we assess if two protective mechanisms for mental health - social support and social engagement – are associated with lower risk of reporting worsening mental health as a result of the pandemic.

Using a demographically representative sample of working age adults in the United States (N = 4014) collected in February and March of 2021, we use logistic regression models to predict self-reported worsening mental health as a result of the pandemic using social support – measured as instrumental and emotional support – and social engagement. We use additional stratified models to determine if these relationships are consistent across rural-urban areas.

Results indicate that among urban working age adults, emotional support, high levels of instrumental support, and some types of social engagement were associated with significantly lower risk of worsening mental health. However, among rural working age adults, only emotional support and high levels of instrumental support were significantly associated with lower odds of worsening mental health.

Findings suggest that while emotional support may be effective for working age adults in lowering risk of worsening mental health from the pandemic, social engagement may not be for rural residents. The results support use of mental health promotion and prevention approaches that bolster emotional support through familial and local social networks, and raises caution about the efficacy of social engagement approaches in rural contexts.