The effects of the pandemic on mental health in persons with and without a psychiatric history

Eleanor Murphy, Connie Svob, Milenna Van Dijk, Marc J. Gameroff, Jamie Skipper, Eyal Abraham, Tenzin Yangchen, Jonathan Posner, Stewart A. Shankman, Priya J. Wickramaratne, Myrna M. Weissman, Ardesheer Talati*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Background Prospective studies are needed to assess the influence of pre-pandemic risk factors on mental health outcomes following the COVID-19 pandemic. From direct interviews prior to (T1), and then in the same individuals after the pandemic onset (T2), we assessed the influence of personal psychiatric history on changes in symptoms and wellbeing. Methods Two hundred and four (19-69 years/117 female) individuals from a multigenerational family study were followed clinically up to T1. Psychiatric symptom changes (T1-to-T2), their association with lifetime psychiatric history (no, only-past, and recent psychiatric history), and pandemic-specific worries were investigated. Results At T2 relative to T1, participants with recent psychopathology (in the last 2 years) had significantly fewer depressive (mean, M = 41.7 v. 47.6) and traumatic symptoms (M = 6.6 v. 8.1, p < 0.001), while those with no and only-past psychiatric history had decreased wellbeing (M = 22.6 v. 25.0, p < 0.01). Three pandemic-related worry factors were identified: Illness/death, Financial, and Social isolation. Individuals with recent psychiatric history had greater Illness/death and Financial worries than the no/only-past groups, but these worries were unrelated to depression at T2. Among individuals with no/only-past history, Illness/death worries predicted increased T2 depression [B = 0.6(0.3), p < 0.05]. Conclusions As recent psychiatric history was not associated with increased depression or anxiety during the pandemic, new groups of previously unaffected persons might contribute to the increased pandemic-related depression and anxiety rates reported. These individuals likely represent incident cases that are first detected in primary care and other non-specialty clinical settings. Such settings may be useful for monitoring future illness among newly at-risk individuals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2476-2484
Number of pages9
JournalPsychological Medicine
Issue number6
StatePublished - Apr 8 2023


  • Pandemic
  • anxiety
  • depression
  • functioning
  • longitudinal
  • mental health
  • pre- vs post- pandemic symptoms

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Applied Psychology


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