COVID-19: The Role of Psychological Factors in the Spreading of Disease, Discrimination, and Distress
The novel corona COVID‑19 arose in late 2019 in Wuhan, China, and has rapidly spread from China to other parts of the world. By early February there were over 40,000 confirmed cases in 25 countries, of which 2.5% have been fatal. The WHO declared the virus to be a public health emergency of international concern. COVID‑19 is poised to become the next pandemic. For both epidemics and pandemics, psychological factors play a major role in the spread and containment of infection (e.g., non-adherence with hygiene guidelines) and in societally disruptive behaviour (e.g., infection-related discrimination, excessive fear and worry, overuse of healthcare resources); as such, psychological factors have important public health significance. The proposed studies are the first of a planned series of studies with the end goal of developing a rapid assessment system (assessment battery and online delivery platform) that can be used to assess, for any pandemic or major epidemic, infection-related excessive anxiety and xenophobia, and risk factors for these problems. To achieve this end goal, we will conduct three studies with a specific focus on COVID‑19 using community samples. The goal of Study 1 will be to develop and validate measures of COVID-19-related anxiety and xenophobia (C-ANX, and C-XEN). In Study 2, these scales will be used to identify the correlates of C-ANX and C-XEN, which can then be used to identify the downstream impacts of these psychological reactions. Based on the findings of Studies 1 and 2, we will develop and evaluate an online public health assessment and information platform (Study 3) designed to reduce the risk of adverse psychological reactions to infectious outbreak. This platform would then be expanded to (a) monitor the psychological impact (as a public health problem) of a pandemic/epidemic, (b) identify people in need of psychological services, and (c) implement interventions for reducing infection-related xenophobia and excessive anxiety.