Social distancing and related factors during the COVID-19 pandemic in relation to COVID-19 symptoms and diagnosis and mental health

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



Zeitschrift fur Gesundheitswissenschaften = Journal of public health




COVID-19; Mental health; Restriction adherence; Young adults


Background: Many states, local authorities, organizations, and individuals have taken action to reduce the spread of COVID-19, particularly focused on restricting social interactions. Such actions have raised controversy regarding their implications for the spread of COVID-19 versus mental health. Methods: We examined correlates of: (1) COVID symptoms and test results (i.e., no symptoms/tested negative, symptoms but not tested, tested positive), and (2) mental health symptoms (depressive/anxiety symptoms, COVID-related stress). Data were drawn from Fall 2020 surveys of young adults (n = 2576; = 24.67; 55.8% female; 31.0% sexual minority; 5.4% Black; 12.7% Asian; 11.1% Hispanic) in six metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) with distinct COVID-related state orders. Correlates of interest included MSA, social distancing behaviors, employment status/nature, household composition, and political orientation. Results: Overall, 3.0% tested positive for COVID-19; 7.0% had symptoms but no test; 29.1% reported at least moderate depressive/anxiety symptoms on the PHQ-4 Questionnaire. Correlates of testing positive (vs. having no symptoms) included residing in Oklahoma City vs. Boston, San Diego, or Seattle and less social distancing adherence; there were few differences between those without symptoms/negative test and those with symptoms but not tested. Correlates of greater depressive/anxiety symptoms included greater social distancing adherence, being unemployed/laid off (vs. working outside of the home), living with others (other than partners/children), and being Democrat but not Republican (vs. no lean); findings related to COVID-specific stress were similar. Conclusion: Despite curbing the pandemic, social distancing and individual (e.g., political) and environmental factors that restrict social interaction have negative implications for mental health.


Prevention and Community Health