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COVID-19 Pandemic Experiences and Symptoms of Pandemic-Associated Traumatic Stress Among Mothers in the US

The primary outcomes of the COVID-19 pandemic on the mental health of women with children remain largely unknown. To identify and describe clusters of mothers of children participating in the Environmental influences on Child Health Outcomes (ECHO) Program that characterize pandemic-associated hardships, coping mechanisms, and behaviors, and to evaluate associations between pandemic-associated hardships, coping strategies, and behavior changes with pandemic-associated traumatic stress symptoms. This multicenter cohort study investigated experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic between April 2020 and August 2021 among maternal caregivers of children participating in the ECHO Program. Data from self-identified mothers of ECHO-enrolled children from 62 US cohorts were included in analyses. Data were analyzed from November 2021 to July 2022. The primary exposures were pandemic-associated changes in mothers’ health, health care utilization, work and finances, coping strategies, and health-associated behaviors. Exposures were assessed via a self-reported questionnaire designed by ECHO investigators. The primary outcome was the total symptoms score of pandemic-associated traumatic stress (PTS), defined as the number of items endorsed at least sometimes or more frequently, from a 10-item self-report measure. The study surveyed 11 473 mothers (mean [SD] age, 37.8 [7.4] years; 342 American Indian [2.98%], 378 Asian [3.29%], 1701 Black [14.83%], and 7195 White [62.71%]; 2184 with Hispanic/Latina ethnicity [19.04%]) and identified 2 clusters that best characterized their COVID-19 pandemic experiences-one characterized by higher life disruptions (eg, to work and health care), higher social isolation, more coping behaviors to mitigate the outcomes of the pandemic, and more changes to their health behavior routines (high change [1031 mothers]) and the other characterized by lower changes (low change [3061 mothers]). The high change cluster was more socioeconomically advantaged and reported higher PTS (mean [SD] number of symptoms, 3.72 [2.44] vs 2.51 [2.47]). Across both clusters, higher pandemic-associated hardships, coping mechanisms, and behavior changes were associated with higher PTS, and these associations were greater in the low change cluster. In this study of more than 11 000 US mothers, associations between socioeconomic factors, stressful life events, and mental health sequelae were complex. Accordingly, programs, policies, and practices targeting mental health during public health crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic should consider the range and configuration of hardships in designing the most effective interventions to mitigate long-term outcomes.

Authors: Bastain, Theresa M; Avalos, Lyndsay A; Environmental Influences on Child Health Outcomes Program Collaborators,; et al.

JAMA Netw Open. 2022 Dec 01;5(12):e2247330. Epub 2022-12-01.

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