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Increased Risk of Poor Mental Health and Severe Mental Health-Related Impairment Among California Adults Impacted by COVID-19

November 17, 2022

Policy Brief

Authors: D. Imelda Padilla-Frausto, PhD, MPH, Nicole Pereira, Adam Valdivia

Summary: Stressors experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic can exacerbate existing mental health conditions and intensify disability or impairment related to poor mental health. This policy brief presents data from the 2020 California Health Interview Survey, which included questions specific to COVID-19 collected at the height of the pandemic. With businesses, child care centers, and schools forced to close, millions of Californians lost critical sources of income, child care, and education.

Findings: Data show how the pandemic disrupted the livelihoods of many California adults and their ability to make ends meet, and how severely these impacts affected the mental health of many and their ability to function in daily life. Specifically, the authors found that having difficulty paying for housing and other basic necessities and in finding or paying for child care increased the risk of severe life impairment among adults with serious or moderate psychological distress.

This study underscores the need to reduce the additional risks of psychological distress and severe impairment left in the pandemic’s economic wake. Policy recommendations include continuing housing assistance programs and food benefits, addressing inequities in housing-cost burdens, expanding health care coverage and child care provisions, ensuring equitable access to financial supports, and using better tools to measure and ensure economic security.

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