Development and Initial Validation of the COVID Stress Scales

Authored By: Taylor, S., Landry, C. A., Paluszek, M. M., Fergus, T. A., McKay, D. & Asmundson, G. J. G. 

A pandemic, like the current COVID-19 outbreak, can have very different psychological effects on the people who experience this event. Some people may feel very afraid and anxious during the outbreak and struggle with distressing psychological symptoms like nightmares, unwanted upsetting thoughts, repeated checking for signs of illness, unable to stop seeking reassurance from others, and feeling compelled to stockpile supplies. Others may feel relatively unconcerned about the pandemic and decide not to conform to public health guidelines.

Consistent adherence to public health guidelines is critical for preventing and containing the spread of viral infection, yet this adherence is highly influenced by the way that people have been affected psychologically by the pandemic. In addition, early identification and treatment of pandemic-related mental health issues can prevent these concerns from becoming more severe and debilitating. Determining the extent to which people are experiencing adverse psychological responses to the COVID-19 outbreak would greatly help public health officials and providers better anticipate, prevent, and resolve many of the negative personal and societal consequences of these responses.

The current study was undertaken to respond to this need by creating the COVID Stress Scales (CSS), a psychological tool that measures how people are reacting to the COVID-19 outbreak. Specific reactions measured by the CSS include fears of infection and contact with the virus, disease-related xenophobia (i.e., prejudice towards perceived foreigners), fear of socio-economic consequences of the pandemic, compulsive checking and reassurance seeking, and traumatic stress symptoms. During development, a large (N = 6854) and representative sample of Canadians and Americans completed the CSS to evaluate how accurately and consistently the CSS measures the psychological responses that it was supposed to measure.

Findings from this evaluation show that the CSS is a promising tool that can assist with the current (and future) pandemic(s) by helping explain the psychological effects of COVID-19 and by identifying people who need mental health services during and following the pandemic. Findings also show that some people may experience COVID Stress Syndrome. Accordingly, information collected with the CSS could help public health officials inform their decision-making regarding COVID-19-related mental health interventions and initiatives.

Lay summary written by Julia Mason

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