Psychological distress in the face of a pandemic: An observational study characterizing the impact of COVID-19 on immigrant outpatient mental health

Serafini RA, Powell SK, Frere JJ, Saali A, Krystal HL, Kumar V, Yashaswini C, Hernandez J, Moody K, Aronson A, Meah Y, Katz CL

10.1016/j.psychres.2020.113595 02/12/2020

PMID: 33296817


Undocumented immigrants have disproportionately suffered during the novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic due to factors including limited medical access and financial insecurity, which can exacerbate pandemic-associated distress. Psychological outcomes for immigrant outpatients were assessed after transition to telepsychiatry in March 2020. Mental health was assessed with Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-2) and Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD-2) inventories, a novel coronavirus-specific survey, and the Kessler Psychological Distress Scale (K10+). Feedback on telepsychiatry sessions and access to non-clinical resources were also gathered, after which multivariable linear regression modeling identified psychosocial factors underlying changes in distress levels. 48.57% and 45.71% of participants reported worsened anxiety and depression levels due to the pandemic, respectively. From March to April, PHQ-2 and GAD-2 scores significantly increased by 0.81 and 0.63 points, respectively. The average total psychological distress score was 23.8, with 60% of scores reflecting serious mental illness. Factors that most influenced K10+ scores included a pre-existing depressive disorder, food insecurity, and comfort during telepsychiatry visits. 93.75% of participants believed access to remote psychiatry helped their mental health during COVID-19. The negative impact of COVID-19 on mental health in vulnerable populations stems from medical and psychosocial factors such as pre-existing psychiatric conditions and unmet essential needs.

Keywords: Anxiety; COVID-19; Depression; Distress; Mental health; Telepsychiatry; Vulnerable populations.