State lockdown policies, mental health symptoms, and using substances

General Information

State lockdown policies, mental health symptoms, and using substances
Abhery Das, Parvati Singh and Tim A Bruckner
Publication Type
Journal paper
Addictive Behaviors
Objective: Previous literature finds an increase in depressive symptoms, substance use, and suicidal ideation following the COVID-19 pandemic in the US - suicides do not appear to increase. We examine whether 1) state lockdown policies in the US precede an increase in mental health symptoms; and 2) the extent to which using substances amplifies or attenuates the relation.

Methods: We specified, as our exposure variable, the timing of state-level lockdown orders. We used, as the outcome variable, the 4-item Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-4) that measures anxiety and depression symptoms. We utilized the Understanding America Study (UAS), a nationally representative sample of 7,597 adults across 50 states in the US, surveyed biweekly between March 10, 2020 and November 11, 2020. Linear fixed effect analyses controlled for time-invariant individual factors, as well as employment status, household income, and previous mental health diagnosis.

Results: Regression results indicate an increase in PHQ-4 scores of approximately 1.70 during lockdown, relative to no lockdown (p < 0.05). Relative to no lockdown, an increase in alcohol use corresponds with a 0.08 unit decrease in PHQ-4 scores during lockdown (p < 0.05).

Conclusion: State lockdown policies precede greater mental health symptoms. Increases in consuming alcohol attenuates the relation between state lockdown policies and mental health symptoms. Results may portend greater addiction following the pandemic warranting further investigation into utilization of substance use treatment.