The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) emergency has led to numerous attempts to assess the impact of the pandemic on population mental health. The findings indicate an increase in depression and anxiety but have been limited by the lack of specificity about which aspects of the pandemic (e.g. viral exposure or economic threats) have led to adverse mental health outcomes.
Network analyses were conducted on data from wave 1 (N = 2025, recruited 23 March–28 March 2020) and wave 2 (N = 1406, recontacts 22 April–1 May 2020) of the COVID-19 Psychological Research Consortium Study, an online longitudinal survey of a representative sample of the UK adult population. Our models included depression (PHQ-9), generalized anxiety (GAD-7) and trauma symptoms (ITQ); and measures of COVID-specific anxiety, exposure to the virus in self and close others, as well as economic loss due to the pandemic.
A mixed graphical model at wave 1 identified a potential pathway from economic adversity to anxiety symptoms via COVID-specific anxiety. There was no association between viral exposure and symptoms. Ising network models using clinical cut-offs for symptom scores at each wave yielded similar findings, with the exception of a modest effect of viral exposure on trauma symptoms at wave 1 only. Anxiety and depression symptoms formed separate clusters at wave 1 but not wave 2.
The psychological impact of the pandemic evolved in the early phase of lockdown. COVID-related anxiety may represent the mechanism through which economic consequences of the pandemic are associated with psychiatric symptoms.