New scale effectively measures pandemic-related stress in children and adults

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The Pandemic-Related Traumatic Stress Scale (PTSS) can be used to effectively measure stress related to the COVID-19 pandemic and identify children and adults with high levels of stress who may need additional mental health support, according to a new study. Environmental Influences on Child Health Outcomes Program (ECHO) at the National Institutes of Health.

The study included 17,830 children and adults from 47 ECHO cohort study sites representing all 50 states, Washington, DC, and Puerto Rico. The researchers divided the sample into four groups, including 1,656 pregnant or postpartum individuals; 11,483 adult caregivers; 1,795 adolescents aged 13 to 21; and 2,896 children aged 3 to 12 years. Between April 2020 and August 2021, participants or their caregivers completed surveys about their epidemic-related traumatic stress, depressive symptoms, anxiety, general stress, and life satisfaction. On average, caregivers had the highest PTSS scores, followed by adolescents, pregnant or postpartum individuals, and children.

Within these groups, the researchers found additional differences related to age and gender. Adolescents, women, and caregivers of children younger than 5 years had higher PTSS scores on average than younger children, men, and caregivers of children 5 and older, respectively. Higher levels of epidemiology-related traumatic stress were associated with greater distress symptoms and lower life satisfaction.

PTSS can be used in the context of the immediate COVID-19 pandemic. Unlike previous measures that capture traumatic stress responses to a single event, the PTSS was developed to assess potential traumatic stress responses to ongoing large-scale threats. In the future, the PTSS may be adapted to assess other acute onset stress responses with longer duration.”

Courtney Blackwell, PhD, is an Echo Cohort Investigator at Northwestern University

Dr. Blackwell led this joint research published Psychological assessment.


Journal Reference:

Blackwell, C.K., etc (2023) Development and Psychometric Validation of Epidemic-Related Traumatic Stress Scales for Children and Adults. Psychological assessment.

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