Coronavirus hurting mental health of Americans but religious support may help, studies show

People look at the Manhattan skyline on April 2, 2020 as seen from Weehawken, New Jersey.
People look at the Manhattan skyline on April 2, 2020 as seen from Weehawken, New Jersey. | AFP via Getty Images/ANGELA WEISS

While some of Americans say they can endure social distancing directives that have shut down schools and businesses across the country for “as long as is necessary” before their physical health or finances are significantly impacted, less than 50% say their mental health will hold up.

Social distancing practices aimed at stemming the spread of the new coronavirus are already impacting the mental health of 15% of Americans while another 37% say they can only endure for a few more weeks or months before their mental health begins to suffer, according to a recent Gallup poll.

Only 48% of a random sample of 7,931 U.S. adults, aged 18 and older who participated in the poll conducted April 6-12 said their mental health could endure social distancing for as long as is necessary.

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President Trump recently announced that all Americans must continue to avoid nonessential travel, going to work, eating at bars and restaurants, or gathering in groups of more than 10 through at least the end of April and perhaps until June.

While 53% of men in the survey said they could continue social distancing as long as is necessary before their mental health suffers, only 43% of women agreed. Some 19% of women said they were already experiencing negative emotional or mental health effects compared to 12% of men. Among parents with minor children at home, 20% report already struggling with their mental health compared with 13% of parents who had no minor children at home.

For respondents without minor children, 51% of them said they could last as long as is necessary without their mental state being affected, but only 41% of parents agree.

Employed adults were also more likely to report negative emotional effects from social distancing directives than those who were unemployed.

Younger respondents in the survey, those aged 18 to 44, were also more likely than their older counterparts to say their emotional or mental health is already suffering.

“Older Americans are more likely than those who are younger to say they can follow social distancing practices as long as is necessary before their financial, mental and physical health suffer. Older adults may be more patient because they know their health risks are higher than those for younger adults should they contract COVID-19. They are also more likely to be retired and on a fixed income, which might make them somewhat less financially vulnerable,” Gallup said.

In Does Religious Affiliation Protect People's Well-being? Evidence from the Great Recession After Correcting for Selection Effects, a recently revised study by scholars at Baylor University, Duke University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, comparative data show that religious Americans were better able than less religious ones to weather the economic storm of the 2008 recession.

The evidence from this study, researchers say, could have implications for how the coronavirus pandemic could impact Americans today.

The researchers analyzed data from Gallup’s U.S. Daily Poll between 2008 and 2017, which surveyed 1,000 adults daily on political, economic and well-being topics to reach their conclusion.

“These results are consistent with a large literature on the relationship between social capital and religious affiliation, but they also suggest a possible causal effect of Christianity on the way individuals process and respond to external circumstances. Moreover, we show that individuals who may identify as Christian, but are not actively engaged in their local church community, may benefit significantly more from being surrounded by religious adherents and communities with social capital. These results contribute to a growing literature on the effect of religiosity on human flourishing and economic outcomes,” the researchers said in their conclusion of the study.

 “Houses of worship contain networks of social support, a shared sense of identity, norms, trust, accountability and reciprocity,” Byron Johnson, distinguished professor of social sciences and founding director of Baylor’s Institute for Studies of Religion, said in a statement to The Christian Post. “These networks of social and spiritual support help build and sustain relationships that can be invaluable sources of encouragement in times of trouble.”

He added: “What our study allows us to conclude is that religiously active Christians who report faith is important in their lives are better able to deal with either economic booms or busts. For active Christians, social well-being is not based on the economy.”

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