In a survey of almost 1,500 US adults, McGinty and colleagues (2020) studied levels of psychological distress using the Kessler scale and levels of loneliness.
They compared the distress levels with national data from 2018. In 2018, the prevalence of serious psychological distress was 3.9%. In April 2020 it was 13.6%.
The authors note a worrying implication of these findings – that, since the Kessler scale is predictive of serious mental illness, the distress during the pandemic could transfer to longer term psychiatric disorders.
This is not outside the realms of possibility, especially since the social and economic impact of the pandemic is expected to be felt for years to come.
The authors should be commended both for their methodology and for their upfront discussion of its limitations – namely the potential for sampling bias.
People might have been more likely to respond to such a survey in April 2020 compared with 2018; therefore, the 2020 figures could be an overestimate.
McGinty, E.E., Presskreischer, R., Han, H. & Barry, C.L. (2020) Psychological Distress and Loneliness Reported by US Adults in 2018 and April 2020. JAMA. 324(1), pp.93-94. doi:10.1001/jama.2020.9740.