Many people have stayed at home to protect themselves from COVID-19 infection, but no one has managed to avoid all the biological, social and psychological impacts of the pandemic. People have reported interrupted sleep and vivid nightmares. Divorces and separations increased significantly between 2019 and 2021. And many people coped with stress by smoking cigarettes, using marijuana, drinking more alcohol, and eating too much or too little.
“The pandemic has put a lot of stress on our minds and our bodies,” said Michael J. Zvolensky, Ph.D., Hugh Roy and Lillie Cranz Cullen Distinguished University Professor of Psychology at the University of Houston. Science supports their conclusion: research shows that the global prevalence of depression and anxiety increased by more than 25% in the first year of the pandemic.
However, the pandemic has not affected everyone equally. People already living with anxiety, depression and other stress-related conditions had worse symptoms. According to Michael Businelle, Ph.D., co-director of the Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust Health Promotion Research Center and professor of family and preventive medicine at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, “Blacks, Latinos, and Native Americans experienced greater COVID-19-related burden due to disparities in access to care and safety at work. They also had higher infection and death rates due to COVID-19 and suffered collective trauma due to racial justice issues.” These issues led to even more depression and anxiety in these populations.
Zvolensky and Businelle are lead investigators with a $2.7 million grant from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), part of the National Institutes of Health, to study the impact of a mobile health app on related depression and anxiety and aggravated by the covid19 pandemic.
The newly developed Easing Anxiety Sensitivity for Everyone (EASE) app is designed to educate people about anxiety and depression, help them monitor symptoms, and provide strategies for managing their symptoms. The study will determine whether the app can help reduce the user’s symptoms and improve their quality of life. Researchers will also assess how different stressors affect people from various racial and ethnic groups.
The study will enroll 800 participants: 200 blacks, 200 Latinos, 200 American Indians, and 200 non-Latino whites. Although the study is recruiting participants in the investigators’ home states of Oklahoma and Texas, the team hopes the study will expand to other states.