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Mental Health Effects Varied with Sociodemographic Characteristics

In our sixth report drawn from the Living in Boston During COVID-19 survey, we have focused on the pandemic’s health impact among Bostonians. We documented declines in physical health and even more in mental health that residents attributed to the pandemic.  At the same time, we found striking disparities in these adverse health effects between residents in relation to their overall health, their health behaviors, and their race and ethnicity, education and employment, and marital status.  The patterning of these effects reveals how multiple aspects of residents’ backgrounds and current circumstances shaped their experience of the pandemic. In today’s data story, the third of three from this report, we focus on the association between health-related behaviors and adverse effects on mental health.

Younger people reported more adverse effects on their mental health and the likelihood of these adverse effects diminished as age increased.  Four in ten of the youngest age group (18-35) reported their mental health had “gotten worse” since March, compared to fewer than one in ten of those who were 65 or older.

Mental health had declined more markedly for white non-Hispanic respondents (almost two in five) and Asian respondents (about three in ten) compared to those in other racial or ethnic respondents.  More Latinx respondents (one in five) reported that their mental health had improved than was the case for the other racial/ethnic groups.

Single women were most likely to report worsened mental health (almost one in four).  Married men were the least likely to report that mental health had gotten worse (one in five) and single men were the most likely to report that their mental health had improved (about one in six).

Adverse mental health effects were at least six times more common among those with at least some college (three in ten) than among those with no more than a high school education (one in twenty). 

Declines in mental health were much more common among those who were employed in the Fall and even moreso among those working largely from home than among those who were not working.

In summary, the perceived impact of the coronavirus pandemic on mental health varied in relation to Boston residents’ personal characteristics.  Younger residents, single women, whites, those with more education and those who were working—particularly from home–all reported more adverse impacts on their mental health. 

The content of this post is drawn from the Living in Boston during COVID-19 survey conducted by the Center for Survey Research at UMass Boston and the Boston Area Research Initiative at Northeastern University, in collaboration with the Boston Public Health Commission. It was funded by the National Science Foundation’s Human-Environment and Geographical Sciences (HEGS) program through a grant for rapid-response research (RAPID; Award #2032384). The results presented here were part of a longer report on “Physical and Mental Health.”

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