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C19 20-203 – HSR&D Study

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C19 20-203
Impact of COVID-19 and Social Distancing on Mental Health and Suicide Risk in Veterans
Bryann R DeBeer PhD
Aurora, CO
Funding Period: July 2020 - March 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic has created sweeping changes in daily life across the world; yet, given the newness of this lethal virus, limited research has been conducted on its impact on well-being and mental health. Mandatory quarantines can have both immediate and long-term effects on social engagement and isolation. In particular, support, dependence, and trust in social networks may be disrupted and eroded, which, in turn, may impact Veteran well-being and suicide risk. Suicide rates are already alarming in Veterans, with 17 veterans dying per day. Although social distancing is importantly designed to flatten the trajectory of COVID-19, such practices could have other unintentional negative outcomes on Veterans' social networks, and overall well-being.

This project will assess experiences of Veterans during the COVID-19 pandemic, changes in their social networks over time due to social distancing via a social network analysis, and modifiable treatment factors to inform intervention development.

Potential participants will be identified using VA Corporate Data Warehouse (CDW). Veterans with PTSD, mood disorders, or other psychiatric disorders will be oversampled at a rate of 50%, as Veterans with psychiatric disorders are at higher risk for suicide than Veterans without psychiatric disorders. Recruitment letters will be sent to Veterans nationwide and invite participants to complete a one-time, 90-minute survey via a downloadable survey application on their mobile device or tablet. The survey will include measures to assess their social network, physical health, military history, mental health symptoms such as depression and PTSD, suicidal ideation and behavior, and the impact of the pandemic on social and family relationships. All participation will occur online, allowing for the study to assess a national sample of Veterans. We anticipate enrolling up to 210 Veteran participants. A personal-level social network analysis, will be conducted (Acosta et al., 2018, 2015; Moore et al., 2008; Varda et al., 2009). This analysis helps identify members of a person's social network, the ways in which members interact and support each other, dependency, and the level of trust among members. This analysis will account for changes in the social network from the time prior to the pandemic to the present.

Data collection will begin in summer 2020.

Data gleaned from this rapid response proposal will be used to understand the impacts of COVID-19 and social distancing on Veteran well-being, mental health, and suicide risk in order to mobilize an immediate response to the long-lasting effects of the pandemic. Depending on the results, next phase interventions that target social cognition, psychological inflexibility, and expressed emotion, potentially in combination, could be developed. Next steps following this project will be to apply for further funding of a longitudinal study following this cohort, as well as a pilot grant to develop new treatments.

None at this time.

DRA: Mental, Cognitive and Behavioral Disorders
DRE: Prevention, TRL - Applied/Translational
Keywords: None at this time.
MeSH Terms: None at this time.

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