A new study from researchers at Environmental Influences on Child Health Outcomes Program (ECHO) at the National Institutes of Health shows how a stress scale developed to identify who was most at-risk of needing mental health support during the pandemic has the potential to evaluate traumatic stress reactions to ongoing large-scale threats.
The study, which describes the Pandemic-Related Traumatic Stress Scale (PTSS), is published in the journal Psychological Assessment. Researchers conducted the study at 47 ECHO cohort study cites across the United States, Puerto Rico, and Washington D.C. The study included 17,839 adults and children.
The nearly 18,000 participants were split into four groups: 1,656 pregnant or postpartum individuals; 11,483 adult caregivers; 1,795 adolescents ages 13 to 21; and 2,896 children ages 3 to 12.
The participants were given surveys on pandemic-related stress, depression and anxiety symptoms, and life satisfaction between April 2020 and August 2021.
Caregivers, women most stressed
The adult caregiver population, which was 98.7% female, had the highest measures of pandemic-related stress, followed by adolescents, pregnant and postpartum participants, and children.
“All subgroup distributions were slightly positively skewed, and parent-reported child scores had the highest skewness,” the authors said. “This was further reflected by 27.6% (n = 800) of 3- to 12-year-olds having the lowest possible score.”
For all groups, women were more stressed than men.
There were substantial geographic differences seen in survey responses, with individuals in the South and Midwest reporting lower traumatic stress, and individuals in the Northeast and West reporting higher levels.
Future work examining the predictive power of the tool above and beyond measures of general distress is warranted.
In a conclusion, the authors said, "Future work examining the predictive power of the tool above and beyond measures of general distress is warranted."
In a press release, Courtney Blackwell, PhD, an ECHO Cohort Investigator at Northwestern University. Said, “Unlike previous measures that capture traumatic stress reactions to a single event, the PTSS was developed to evaluate potential traumatic stress reactions to ongoing large-scale threats. In the future, the PTSS could be adapted to evaluate reactions to other acute onset stressors with lengthy durations.”