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One Year In: How Is the COVID-19 Pandemic Affecting Us?

A new report provides insight into how we are coping with the pandemic.

Key points

  • The COVID-19 pandemic has come with serious physical and mental health consequences for individuals, groups, and societies.
  • A recent APA survey suggests that the prolonged stress of the pandemic has triggered weight gain, sleep disturbances, and increased alcohol consumption for many.
  • Communities of color, parents of young children, essential workers, and young adults appear most likely to be negatively affected.
 Adam Nieścioruk/Unsplash
A new report from the American Psychological Association provides us with insight into the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Source: Adam Nieścioruk/Unsplash

A year after the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, the world is asking, “How have we been impacted?” In addition to the immense death toll that the pandemic has had on the world population—with over 550,000 deaths in the United States alone as of March 2021—the mystery has continued as to what the exact short-term and long-term impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic will be. Although this impact will be continued to be explored for years to come, a recent survey conducted by the American Psychological Association (APA) provides us with an additional piece to this puzzle.

What the APA Survey Found

In March 2021, the American Psychological Association released a report to the public that provided results from their recent "Stress in America" survey . The Stress in America survey was conducted online in February 2021 and included survey results from over 3,000 adults living within the United States. The results of this survey provide us with information on just how well Americans might be coping in response to this time of collective trauma.

Key findings of the report indicate that that the increased stressors of the pandemic might be impacting physical and mental health in ways that could have lasting individual and societal consequences, most notably the below.

1. Weight Changes

One of the key findings of the report involved concerning weight changes for American adults . Results of the survey indicated that the majority of adults, or more than 6 in 10 U.S. adults, reported undesired weight change since the onset of the pandemic. These weight changes included 42 percent of U.S. reporting undesired weight gain, with an average weight gain of 29 lbs. and 10 percent of these having reporting gaining more than 50 lbs. The results also indicated that 18 percent of those who participated in the research lost more weight than they wanted to, with an average weight loss being around 26 lbs.

2. Sleep Changes and Activity Levels

In addition to weight fluctuations, the report provided information on the pandemic might have impacted sleep health and activity levels during 2021. For the few thousand participants who participated in the study, 2 out of 3 respondents reported unwanted changes in sleep including either an undesired increase or decrease in sleep since the onset of the pandemic. Out of the sample, 53 percent also reported having been less physically active than desired over the past year.

3. Alcohol Consumption

As the pandemic has led to an increase in stress for many, some have noted an increase in alcohol consumption to aid in dealing with the stress. According to the survey results, 23 percent of the overall sample and approximately 52 percent of parents of young elementary-aged children (ages 5-7 years old) reported drinking more alcohol in the past year to cope with the pandemic stress.

The Variable Impact of COVID-19 on Different Populations

Although the COVID-19 pandemic impacts us as a collective, research is continuing to indicate that the impact of the pandemic can be highly variable, and some populations might be disproportionately impacted. The APA’s recent report provided us with additional information on the impact that some populations might be experiencing.

  • People of Color: Throughout the pandemic, research has suggested that people of color are being impacted at disproportionate rates compared to White individuals. In this study, the findings indicated that people of color reported some unintended physical changes at higher rates. Some of these results included Hispanic adults being most likely to report undesired changes in sleep (78 percent), weight (71 percent), and having less physical activity than desired (87 percent). People of color were also more likely than White respondents to feel uneasy about returning to life after the pandemic; with Black Americans being the most likely to feel concerned about the future (57 percent).
  • Parents: According to the results, parents with children under 18 have been hit particularly hard by the disruption of the pandemic. The report found that 47 percent of mothers and 30 percent of fathers with children home reported a worsening of their mental health in the past year. Additionally, approximately 77 percent of mothers and 87 percent of fathers reported an unwanted change in sleep patterns.
  • Essential Workers: Essential workers, such as healthcare workers and law enforcement, also stood out in the results in having been more than twice as likely to have been diagnosed with a mental health disorder and receive mental health care since the onset of the pandemic. Additionally, 75 percent of essential workers reported that they also would have benefited from additional emotional support than they received over the past year.
  • Gen Z Adults: Although other generations also reported an impact on their mental health, Gen Z Adults (or adults aged 18 to 24) were the generation that was most likely to report an impact on their mental health; with 46 percent reporting worsened mental health.

What Now?

As we consider our next steps in response and recovery surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, these findings alert us to the potential impacts that the prolonged stress, collective trauma, and disturbance that this pandemic might be having on many. These results remind us of the potential collective impact that the pandemic might be having while reminding us that specific populations and groups might be facing additional challenges.

As we move forward, we must continue to explore how the pandemic has been impacting individuals, communities, and specific populations. Findings like this, although challenging to read, remind us as mental health professionals, individuals, and societies to take steps towards offering any needed support to ourselves and others to foster health and wellbeing.

References

One year later, a new wave of pandemic health concerns. (2021, March 11). American Psychological Association. https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2021/one-year-pandemic-stress

One year on: Unhealthy weight gains, increased drinking reported by Americans coping with pandemic

stress. (2021, March). American Psychological Association. https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2021/03/one-year-pandemic-stress

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