People in employment and younger generation worst affected by COVID-19 psychological distress

psychological distress

Being employed, or in your thirties and below, in the US, during the COVID-19 pandemic, is associated with higher levels of COVID-19 psychological distress as well as increased symptoms of anxiety and depression. This is according to new research led by academics at London South Bank University, and can be found here. Whilst there are ways to deal with psychological stress and mental health issues during this time (tips can be found here), this is the first study of its kind to consider how personality traits, health anxiety and COVID-19 psychological distress are linked to anxiety and depression symptoms during the pandemic.


Possible explanations for those in employment being one of the worst affected groups, could be:

  • a proportion of those employed are likely to continue to physically go to work, leading to a heightened perceived threat of being infected by COVID-19;
  • even for those able to continue working from home, the pandemic has presented a significant threat to the workforce. The possibility of losing a job or experiencing adverse financial consequences as a direct result of the pandemic’s impact on businesses and the economy, is proving to be a constant source of insecurity and worry for many US employees.


Professor Marcantonio Spada, Professor of Addictive Behaviours and Mental Health at LSBU and Lead author of this report, said: “This study highlights, for the first time, that being employed or in your thirties, in the US, during the COVID-19 pandemic, is associated with higher levels of psychological distress and symptoms of anxiety and depression. The research also identifies a positive link between five key personality traits, COVID-19 psychological distress and symptoms of anxiety and depression.


“Further research is needed if we are to understand why younger people appear to be more anxious about the health risks of exposure to COVID-19, even though they are much less likely than older people to suffer fatal illness as a result of contracting the virus. This research will help us to determine how best to intervene at an earlier stage with younger people in future.”


The findings also highlight:

  • Individuals exhibiting heightened levels of neuroticism are more likely to be vulnerable to health anxiety, anxiety, and depression symptoms.
  • Individuals who are conscientious, agreeable and extraverted are more likely to be protected from both health anxiety and COVID-19 psychological distress. The researchers concluded that during the period of isolation, these personality traits may have facilitated connection with others and the building of community spirit, increasing resilience to psychological distress.
  • Being pregnant, older, or suffering from disability is also associated with higher levels of health anxiety in addition to COVID-19 psychological distress, the study found.




  • The data is drawn from a survey sample of 502 adults based in the US with an average age of 39.3 years, ranging from 20 to 77 years old. The study was carried out at the end of June 2020.
  • Participants were recruited using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (MTurk), an internet-based platform that allows individuals to request the completion of jobs (e.g., survey completion) for monetary compensation. Respondents completing surveys through MTurk have been found to produce high quality data and tend to be more demographically diverse than either standard internet samples or undergraduate samples.
  • The researchwas carried out by Marcantonio Spada, Professor of Addictive Behaviours and Mental Health at LSBU’s Centre for Addictive Behaviours together with Dr Daniel C. Kolubinski in the University’s School of Applied Sciences. Their co-authors are: Professor Ana V. Nikčević and Dawn Leach, at Department of Psychology, Kingston University, and Dr Claudia Marino, at the Department of Developmental and Social Psychology, University of Padua, Italy.
  • The study, entitled: ‘Modelling the contribution of the Big Five personality traits, health anxiety and COVID-19 psychological distress to generalized anxiety and depressive symptoms during the COVID-19 pandemic’, has been published in the Journal of Affective Disorders.


In collaboration with:

Jemima Broadbridge

Senior Press Officer

London South Bank University


Photo by Anh Nguyen on Unsplash


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