During the pandemic, the number of United States adults reporting clinically significant symptoms of anxiety and depression sky-rocketed, up from 11% in 2020 to more than 40% in 2021. Our current mental healthcare system cannot adequately accommodate the current crisis; it is therefore important to identify opportunities for public mental health interventions.
Assess whether modifiable emotional factors may offer a point of intervention for the mental health crisis.
Design, setting, and participants
From January 13 to 15, 2022, adults living in the United States were recruited via Amazon Mechanical Turk to complete an anonymous survey.
Main outcomes and measures
Linear regressions tested whether the primary outcomes during the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic (depressive and anxiety symptoms, burnout) were associated with hypothesized modifiable risk factors (loneliness and need for closure) and hypothesized modifiable protective factors (the ability to perceive emotions and connect with others emotionally; emotion-regulation efficacy; and resilience, or the ability to “bounce back” after negative events).
The sample included 1,323 adults (mean [SD] age 41.42 [12.52] years; 636 women [48%]), almost half of whom reported clinically significant depressive (29%) and/or anxiety (15%) symptoms. Approximately 90% of participants indicated feeling burned out at least once a year and nearly half of participants (45%) felt burned out once a week or more. In separate analyses, depressive symptoms (Model A), anxiety symptoms (Model B), and burnout (Model C) were statistically significantly associated with loneliness (βModel A, 0.38; 95% CI, 0.33–0.43; βModel B, 0.30; 95% CI, 0.26–0.36; βModel C, 0.34; 95% CI, 0.28–0.41), need for closure (βModel A, 0.09; 95% CI, 1.03–1.06; βModel B, 0.13; 95% CI, 0.97–0.17; βModel C, 0.11; 95% CI, 0.07–0.16), recent stressful life events (βModel A, 0.14; 95% CI, 0.10–0.17; βModel B, 0.14; 95% CI, 0.11–0.18; βModel C, 0.10; 95% CI, 0.06–0.15), and resilience (βModel A, −0.10; 95% CI, −0.15 to −0.05; βModel B, −0.18; 95% CI, −0.23 to −0.13; βModel C, −0.11; 95% CI, −0.17 to −0.05). In addition, depressive and anxiety symptoms were associated with emotional self-efficacy (βModel A, −0.17; 95% CI, −0.22 to −0.12; βModel B, −0.11; 95% CI, −0.17 to −0.06), and beliefs about the malleability of emotions (βModel A, −0.08; 95% CI, −0.12 to −0.03; βModel B, −0.09; 95% CI, −0.13 to −0.04). Associations between loneliness and symptoms were weaker among those with more emotional self-efficacy, more endorsement of emotion malleability beliefs, and greater resilience, in separate models. Analyses controlled for recent stressful life events, optimism, and social desirability.
Conclusion and relevance
Public mental health interventions that teach resilience in response to negative events, emotional self-efficacy, and emotion-regulation efficacy may protect against the development of depressive symptoms, anxiety, and burnout, particularly in the context of a collective trauma. Emotional self-efficacy and regulation efficacy may mitigate the association between loneliness and mental health, but loneliness prevention research is also needed to address the current mental health crisis.