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Measuring the Emotional Impact of COVID-19 on the U.S. Population

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Emotional impact of COVID-19 infographic

The Emotional Impact of COVID-19 on the U.S. Population

The COVID-19 pandemic has ripped through almost every country on the planet, causing devastating decay to the mental health of millions of people.

While most of us are experiencing higher levels of emotional distress than normal, the severity of stress may change based on factors such as age, race, education level, or even where you live.

This graphic uses data from the National Pandemic Emotional Impact Report to illustrate how each demographic subgroup in the U.S. is feeling.

The Methodology

The emotional upheaval of such a unique event impacts people in different ways, and is difficult to measure given the many direct and indirect factors associated with it.

For the report referenced in the graphic, researchers created a detailed methodology to measure the impact of COVID-19 across a sample of 1,500 adults. Surveys were conducted in May 2020, when the majority of people were under strict lockdown orders. Unemployment levels mirrored those seen only during the Great Depression, and of course, the death rate was rising quicker than anyone could have anticipated.

A Pandemic Distress Index Score (PDIS) was calculated based on participant’s responses, which were then divided into low (bottom 25%), moderate, and high (top 25%) quartiles of pandemic distress.

Emotional Distress Levels, by Demographic Group

Findings uncovered that almost 40% of participants have lost their jobs, or experienced a reduction in income due to the COVID-19 outbreak. However, the reverberations of such stressors vary by demographic subgroup.

Age

According to the report, pandemic-related emotional distress decreases by age group. People in the 18-34 year bracket reported the most pandemic-related distress overall—with respondents citing high stress at nearly double the rate of people over 50 years old. Meanwhile, respondents in the 65+ age group had reported the lowest distress scores of all.

Race

Of all ethnicities in the survey, Hispanics/Latinos and Blacks had the highest average Pandemic Distress Index Scores, and Whites had the lowest average scores.

It is also worth noting that the research concluded five days after the death of George Floyd, so the majority of responses may not include the influence of this event, and the subsequent movement against systematic racism.

Other Categories

In other subgroups, there were slight differences worth mentioning. For example, from a communities perspective, people who live in rural areas were less likely to experience high pandemic distress compared to people living in towns or cities.

When it comes to the battle of the sexes, men and women experience similar levels of distress. Moreover, the level of emotional distress related to COVID-19 did not differ much between people with children under 18 and those with older children. However, women with children under 18 reported more symptoms of anxiety compared to women with no minor children.

What Does the Data Mean?

While the research presents several important insights, understanding what it means is crucial in providing people with the support they need.

For example, participants with high pandemic-related distress are 40 times more likely to have clinically significant levels of anxiety and 20 times more likely to have clinically significant symptoms of depression, compared to those on the lower end of the spectrum.

impact of COVID-19 supplemental

In fact, a report from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention shows that 1 in 4 people in the 18-24 age bracket have seriously considered committing suicide at some point during the month of June 2020, which is in line with the emotional distress scores for this age group.

Building Immunity

While nobody can escape the devastating impacts of COVID-19 on mental health, it is clear that some people are more at risk than others.

Unfortunately, younger adults and people of racial and ethnic minorities have carried higher psychological burdens from the pandemic so far, and we have yet to see the long-term effects that could transpire as a result.

“Even when the pandemic is brought under control, grief, anxiety and depression will continue to affect people and communities.”

—António Guterres, United Nations

Although at times the pandemic may feel inescapable, we must continue to prioritize both our physical and mental health—so we can build immunity for what’s to come.

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Money

Mapping Global Income Support During COVID-19

The need for income support during COVID-19 has been vast. This map visualizes different levels of income support around the world.

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income support during COVID-19

Mapping Global Income Support During COVID-19

Income loss has impacted many during the COVID-19 pandemic. Unemployment, reduced hours, office closures, and business shutdowns have prompted the need for mass income support.

Globally, income from work fell $3.5 trillion in the first nine months of 2020, a change of -10.7% compared to the same period in 2019.

In the above map, Our World in Data reveals the different levels of income support provided by governments across the globe.

Income support, in this case, is defined as governments broadly covering lost salaries, or providing universal basic income or direct payments to people who have lost their jobs or cannot work. Levels of income support are changing over time.

Small Government

Many world governments have provided no support when it comes to a universally applicable scheme to cover lost income in their countries.

Examples: (as of January 25th, 2021)

  • 🇻🇪 Venezuela
  • 🇸🇾 Syria
  • 🇧🇾 Belarus
  • 🇧🇩 Bangladesh
  • 🇰🇭 Cambodia

The majority of the governments providing no support are in low to lower-middle income countries. Based on a recent report from the International Labour Organization (ILO), lower-middle income countries have also seen the highest income losses, reaching 15.1% since 2019.

Developing countries tend to experience a significant fiscal stimulus gap, in which they do not have the capacity to cushion lost income or lost jobs. In fact, it’s estimated by the ILO that low and lower-middle income countries would need to inject an additional $982 billion into their economies to reach the same level of fiscal stimulus as high income countries.

A Helping Hand

There are other governments that are giving out some help on a wide-scale basis, providing citizens less than 50% of their lost salaries:

Examples: (as of January 25th, 2021)

  • 🇿🇦 South Africa
  • 🇨🇳 China
  • 🇷🇺 Russia
  • 🇹🇭 Thailand
  • 🇦🇺 Australia

South Africa’s unemployment rate was the highest in the world at 37.0% in 2020, an increase from 28.7% in 2019. Despite having one of the strictest lockdowns, the country has not been able to slow rising case counts or job losses. Now, South Africa is facing another threat, as a new strain of the novel coronavirus has taken hold in the nation.

The Most Supportive Governments

Finally, many world governments have offered higher amounts of income support, providing citizens with more than 50% of lost income:

Examples: (as of January 25th, 2021)

  • 🇨🇦 Canada
  • 🇺🇸 United States
  • 🇬🇧 United Kingdom
  • 🇪🇸 Spain
  • 🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia

Regionally, it’s the Americas that have been hit the hardest, according to the ILO. The region experienced a 12.1% drop in labor income in 2020 compared to 2019, revealing the need for broad-based income support.

U.S. unemployment went from 3.7% to 8.9% between 2019 and 2020. While the American government initially provided support in the form of the CARES Act, the policy response was recently extended through the more recent $900 billion relief deal.

Income Support Post COVID-19

While some countries have not been in extreme need of income support, others have been and haven’t received it. When looking at demographics, the hardest hit workers have been temporary workers, migrant workers, care workers, and self-employed vendors who have no labor contracts or employment insurance.

As a result, some critics have used this as an opportunity to call for universal basic income (UBI). A three-year study is already being implemented in Germany, for example, to test out how effective this kind of income support would be in the post-pandemic period.

Today, however, income is not a guarantee, and while in 2021 things may be returning to ‘normal,’ that does not mean that income levels will go back to normal.

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Visualized: A Global Risk Assessment of 2021 And Beyond

Which risks are top of mind in 2021? We visualize the World Economic Forum’s risk assessment for top global risks by impact and livelihood.

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Visualized: A Global Risk Assessment of 2021 And Beyond

Risk is all around us. After the events of 2020, it’s not surprising that the level and variety of risks we face have become more pronounced than ever.

Every year, the World Economic Forum analyzes the top risks in the world in its Global Risks Report. Risks were identified based on 800+ responses of surveyed leaders across various levels of expertise, organizations, and regional distribution.

Which risks are top of mind in 2021?

The World’s Top Risks by Likelihood and Impact

According to WEF’s risk assessment methodology, all the global risks in 2021 fall into the following broad categories:

  • 🔵 Economic
  • 🟢 Environmental
  • 🟠 Geopolitical
  • 🔴 Societal
  • 🟣 Technological

It goes without saying that infectious diseases have now become one of the top societal risks on both metrics of likelihood and impact.

That said, environmental risks continue to dominate the leaderboard, accounting for five of the top 10 risks by impact, especially when it comes to climate action failure.

Several countries are off-track in meeting emissions goals set by the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015, while the pandemic has also delayed progress in the shift towards a carbon-neutral economy. Meanwhile, biodiversity loss is occurring at unprecedented rates.

RankTop Risks by LikelihoodTop Risks by Impact
#1🟢Extreme weather🔴Infectious diseases
#2🟢Climate action failure🟢Climate action failure
#3🟢Human environmental damage🟠Weapons of mass destruction
#4🔴Infectious diseases🟢Biodiversity loss
#5🟢Biodiversity loss🟢Natural resource crises
#6🟣Digital power concentration🟢Human environmental damage
#7🟣Digital inequality🔴Livelihood crises
#8🟠Interstate relations fracture🟢Extreme weather
#9🟣Cybersecurity failure🔵Debt crises
#10🔴Livelihood crises🟣IT Infrastructure breakdown

As for other risks, the prospect of weapons of mass destruction ranks in third place for potential impact. In the global arms race, a single misstep would trigger severe consequences on civil and political stability.

New Risks in 2021

While many of the risks included in the Global Risks Report 2021 are familiar to those who have read the editions of years past, there are a flurry of new entries to the list this year.

Here are some of the most interesting ones in the risk assessment, sorted by category:

Societal Risks

COVID-19 has resulted in a myriad of knock-on societal risks, from youth disillusionment and mental health deterioration to livelihood crises. The first two risks in particular go hand-in-hand, as “pandemials” (youth aged 15-24) are staring down a turbulent future. This generation is more likely to report high distress from disrupted educational and economic prospects.

At the same time, as countries prepare for widespread immunization against COVID-19, another related societal risk is the backlash against science. The WEF identifies vaccines and immunization as subjects susceptible to disinformation and denial of scientific evidence.

Economic Risks

As monetary stimulus was kicked into high gear to prop up markets and support many closed businesses and quarantined families, the economic outlook seems more fragile than ever. Debt-to-GDP ratios continue to rise across advanced economies—if GDP growth stagnates for too long, a potential debt crisis could see many businesses and major nations default on their debt.

With greater stress accumulating on a range of major industries such as travel and hospitality, the economy risks a build-up of “zombie” firms that drag down overall productivity. Despite this, market valuations and asset prices continue to rise, with equity markets rewarding investors betting on a swift recovery so far.

Technological Risks

Last but not least, COVID-19 has raised the alert on various technological risks. Despite the accelerated shift towards remote work and digitalization of entire industries, the reality is that digital inequality leaves those with lower digital literacy behind—worsening existing inequalities.

Big Tech is also bloating even further, growing its digital power concentration. The market share some companies hold in their respective sectors, such as Amazon in online retail, threatens to erode the agency of other players.

Assessing the Top 10 Risks On the Horizon

Back in mid-2020, the WEF attempted to quantify the biggest risks over an 18-month period, with a prolonged economic recession emerging on top.

In this report’s risk assessment, global risks are further classified by how soon their resulting threats are expected to occur. Weapons of mass destruction remain the top risk, though on a much longer scale of up to 10 years in the future.

RankRisk%Time Horizon
#1🟠Weapons of mass destruction62.7Long-term (5-10 years)
#2🔴Infectious diseases58Short-term risks (0-2 years)
#3🔴Livelihood crises55.1Short-term risks (0-2 years)
#4🔵Asset bubble burst53.3Medium-term risks (3-5 years)
#5🟣 IT infrastructure breakdown53.3Medium-term risks (3-5 years)
#6🔵Price instability52.9Medium-term risks (3-5 years)
#7🟢Extreme weather events52.7Short-term risks (0-2 years)
#8🔵Commodity shocks52.7Medium-term risks (3-5 years)
#9🔵Debt crises52.3Medium-term risks (3-5 years)
#10🟠State collapse51.8Long-term (5-10 years)

Through this perspective, COVID-19 (and its variants) remains high in the next two years as the world scrambles to return to normal.

It’s also clear that more economic risks are taking center stage, from an asset bubble burst to price instability that could have a profound effect over the next five years.

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