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Boise State study finds concerning trends around COVID mental health

Jayash Paudel, portrait by Priscilla Grover

Since COVID-19 arrived on the world stage, the global population has been troubled by emotional stress, grief and fear as well as economic uncertainty, very real health risks, isolation and the general struggle to adapt to a plethora of “new normals.”

Without a doubt, this state of unrest impacts the mental health of men, women and children. However, according to a new study published by Jayash Paudel, a Boise State assistant professor of economics, the impacts of COVID on mental health appear to be disproportionate and nuanced.

Using data from a global, online survey of over 100,000 individuals administered at the onset of COVID between Mar. 20 and Apr. 7, 2020 (Fetzer, et al), Paudel analyzed the cumulative responses from 58 countries to find that females were 20% more likely than males to find life depressing. Paudel also found that individuals who were isolating at home were 15% more likely to feel anxious and 11% more likely to experience emotional instability than their counterparts.

Additionally, Paudel found that the size of the individual’s household impacted their responses. Virus outbreak intensity and the likelihood of anxiety among individuals staying at home increased with household size, ranging from 12% among individuals with zero to one member in the household, to 21% among those with four to eight members in the household. Paudel’s research can be read in its entirety at:

These initial findings collected at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic are important steps to monitoring the long term impact of the pandemic on mental health and well-being, and to informing long-term economic outcomes, services and policies.

“In the College of Business and Economics, we’re interested in what we can learn from data, and what evidence-based research means for policy,” Paudel said. “When I worked on this research, I thought it would be really cool if we could quantify short-term mental health damages that are associated with the pandemic, and what can we learn in terms of how should we be allocating resources for improved mental health services in a cost effective manner, and what does that mean for long term economic outcomes.”

Paudel explained that while many people often tend to think about economics as a research ultimately linked to money, the work of economists is to better understand trends and shifts in an environment at the macro and micro-level, and to be able to incorporate those necessary data inputs on resources and decision-making into actionable outcomes.

“We need to include these parameters to eventually come up with the loss of global welfare that we all are facing as humans,” Paudel said. “With a pandemic, that loss could come in terms of mental health damage, job loss; we need to incorporate all of those things before coming up with that dollar figure.”

Paudel intends to continue looking into the changes in long-term mental health outcomes, and to ascertain and identify possible channels that might be exacerbating these negative mental health trends.

“If you could somehow identify those channels, it could help policymakers more, so this is something I’m planning to continue working on. I’m actively seeking collaborators and looking for other rich data sets to complement what I have found in this paper.”

To learn more about the initial survey and data collection results, please see:
Fetzer, T., Witte, M., Hensel, L., Jachimowicz, J., Haushofer, J., Ivchenko, A., … Yoeli, E. (2020, April 16). Perceptions of an Insufficient Government Response at the Onset of the COVID-19 Pandemic are Associated with Lower Mental Well-Being.