“There is beauty in the idea of freedom, but it is an illusion. Every human heart is chained by love.”
When we are born, we are all empty rooms — white, blank, utterly devoid of all life and personality. Our parents, then, are the only ones who may enter freely: they paint the walls, play their favorite hits on a record player, and maybe hang a cross over the door. They make a storage space of us, piling cardboard boxes in the corner and labeling each as “mannerisms,” “habits,” “beliefs,” or “obsession with the JFK assassination.” From the very beginning of our lives, we belong to them, absorbing their traits and letting them shape and define us. They are the primary decorators of our “room” until we inevitably age, maturing and reclaiming agency of ourselves and our identity, refurbishing this space to our own liking. Yet, as we rearrange it with age, do we truly have as much autonomy in the matter as we would like to believe?
When we are born, our rooms are quite put together, with most interests hand-picked and presented as essential, our parents projecting onto us what they’d always dreamed for themselves. Ballet classes at age 2, ice skating at 4, Catholic school at 5 — all the beauties of the New World, supposedly. When we grow, however, things begin to change. We wear mismatched outfits to school because I like it, even if Mom says we’ll get bullied. We rearrange and redecorate our “room” as we reach the age of puberty and change our sense of self. Our perception of the world becomes completely transformed, that “room” finally opens for us to edit — the space seemingly infinite.
We can change our clothes, betray our schedules, or shed a religion that once meant everything. We can adopt new hobbies and become part of fictional worlds we wished were within reach, allowing the smell of the worn pages to sink into our memory forever. We can find our true passion, begin reciting knowledge of biology like a prayer, and become intrinsically entangled with the beauty and complexity of it all. We can begin to reconcile with the fact that our parents are flawed humans woven from the same cloth, struggling to grapple with lifelong dilemmas. We can shift our mentalities from theirs, tune our radios to a different station, and make that same inherited room completely unrecognizable.
Yet, while some things we may edit, others are inherently permanent, at least in part. As we age and mature, we can modify the way our parents have previously made us think or act, but some things will always remain regardless of our efforts. We can detach the cross from the wall, yet the mark it made would still remain. We can consciously coat the walls in a new shade, but the other will still shine brightly underneath. If we listen closely, our ears pressed gently against the walls, we will still hear the echo of our parents in the things we say. We will still listen to music that we’re well aware is a result of our dads’ incessant playing of the ’70s hits. We will think with realism and logic, yet still find hints of our mother’s act like a lady perspective in our mind. We still belong to our parents in these small, significant ways because of the remnant traits and interests they’ve left in us. Now, though, we’re also made up of everything else, all the other experiences we’ve had up until this point, and all the people and interests that have affected us during this time — everything else we belong to.
So, then, as we age, do we truly begin to experience sole belonging? In a world of supposed free will, we could say we belong to ourselves, but this declared autonomy doesn’t negate the reality in which we act based on others. These may no longer be our parents, but we mold our lives around new ideas, interests, significant others, friends, etc. — anything and everything we love. This raises the question of whether we truly gain ownership of ourselves, or if we simply pass it onto the hands of someone — or something — else. When we’re younger, our parents hold the master key to our “rooms,” and later on, we simply make copies and hand them out to everything we hold dear. Our friends can tiptoe inside and slip an idea or two while we barely bat an eye. Our occupations can be even more invasive, expanding in the space and barricading the door so that they have unilateral control. Our significant others can have the same effect, moving and rearranging furniture of their own accord, creating a more comfortable space or punching a hole through the wall. We grant ownership to those we love because we want them in our lives, and so we allow them to influence us in this way. Because of our parents, we can be raised as God’s, our school’s, our responsibilities’ — until we become more our music’s, our friends’, books’, intellectual interests’, hobbies’, and everything else we spend our time and thoughts on. Ultimately,we all decide what is best to give pieces of ourselves to, and — as this list inevitably grows over time — the key is to embrace it and balance the effect we let it have on us. The room is ours, after all; it is ours to care for, or be careless with. We must recognize the lack of choice in love, however, and only hope to love what’s best for us — and that the key to it not fall prey to vicious hands.
Clare, Cassandra. Lady Midnight. Simon & Schuster, 2016.
See Sophia’s poster for the URECA 2021 Symposium here.
In adolescence, females are more likely than males to experience an episode of depression (Hyde et al., 2008). Having a strong social network has been shown to protect against the development of depression and anxiety symptoms (Santini et al., 2015). In the U.S., adolescent social circles were largely disrupted during the initial phases of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although it has been suggested that higher perceived social support protects against poorer mental health (Magson et al., 2021), few studies have examined the potential association between relationship quality and mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic. In a sample of 104 12 to 18 year-old girls, the present study examined peer relationship quality prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and changes in depression and anxiety symptoms during March to April 2020. Relationship quality was measured with the self-report Network of Relationships Inventory – Relationship Qualities Version (NRI-RQV). Depression was measured with the Child’s Depression Inventory (CDI), and anxiety was measured with the Screener for Child Anxiety Related Disorders (SCARED). Across the entire sample, there was an increase in both depression (t = -4.88, p < 0.001) and anxiety (t = -3.07, p = 0.003) symptoms during the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, pre-COVID-19 perceived closeness of friendships predicted changes in depression and anxiety symptoms during the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, greater same-sex (r = -0.29, p = 0.003) and opposite-sex (r = -0.21, p = 0.04) friendship closeness were inversely correlated with generalized anxiety symptoms. Opposite-sex friendship closeness was inversely correlated with depression symptoms (r = -0.26, p = 0.008). Parent-child relationships were also examined but were not associated with changes in mental health. Findings suggest that healthier peer friendships may serve as protective factors against depression and anxiety in adolescents. As vaccine distribution increases and social distancing policies become more relaxed, adolescents may be able to strengthen relationships that were impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, contributing to improved mental health.
Adolescence is a critical developmental period for the emergence of sex differences in depression. By ages 13 to 15 girls are approximately twice as likely as boys to experience an episode of depression (Hyde et al., 2008). Prior research has taken a particular interest in the psychological mechanisms responsible for this shift, focusing specifically on girls.
For both sexes, strong social support networks have been shown to protect against the development of depressive and anxiety symptoms (Santini et al., 2015). In early 2020, when the initial phases of the COVID-19 pandemic began, these social networks were largely disrupted, especially for children and teenagers. The daily routine of interacting with classmates and peers at school was abruptly interrupted due to the shift to remote learning. During this time, research suggests that females in particular experienced a notable increase in depressive and anxiety symptoms (Hawes et al., 2021).
While some studies suggest that higher perceived social support protects against poorer mental health (Magson et al., 2021), few studies have examined the potential association between relationship quality and mental health during COVID-19. The present study examined pre-pandemic peer relationship quality and its potential for predicting depressive and anxiety symptoms during the early COVID-19 pandemic.
The present study tested two hypotheses: 1) Individuals would display an increase in depressive and anxiety symptoms during the initial stages of the COVID-19 pandemic as compared to pre-pandemic symptoms, and 2) Both parent and peer relationships would inversely correlate with depressive and anxiety symptoms during the COVID-19 pandemic. In other words, healthier and closer relationships would be associated with fewer depressive and anxiety symptoms during COVID-19.
The sample consisted of 104 girls from an ongoing longitudinal study at Stony Brook University, the Impact of Puberty on Affect and Neural Development across Adolescence (iPANDA) project. This project is currently investigating the relationship between neural reward sensitivity and the development of depression. Eligibility included being assigned female at birth, aged 8 to 14, being literate in English, having no known medical or developmental disabilities, and living within 30 miles of Stony Brook University in Long Island, NY. One of the child’s biological parents also had to be willing to participate. The baseline sample consisted of 317 girls along with one of their biological parents. Baseline data collection was followed by two additional waves, each spaced approximately two years apart. The third wave was still in progress when the COVID-19 pandemic began in late March 2020, therefore not all of the participants had completed the data collection.
The iPANDA participants (N = 104) were included in the present study if they completed the included measures within the appropriate timeframes. One measure was completed prior to the pandemic (before March 18, 2020), and two measures were completed before and during (March 18, 2020 and after) the pandemic. The average time between the pre-COVID and during-COVID assessments was 55 weeks.
Network of Relationships Inventory – Relationship Quality Version (NRI-RQV)
The NRI-RQV questionnaire is a self-report measure that assesses participants’ relationships with their 1) mother or mother figure, 2) father or father figure, 3) boyfriend or girlfriend, 4) sibling, 5) best same-sex friend, and 6) best opposite-sex friend. The questions had Likert-style responses (1 to 6: 1 = low occurrence, 5 = high occurrence, 6 = not applicable) and were presented in matrix format with each relationship type. Questions were classified into one of ten scales; the five positive scales measured companionship, intimate disclosure, emotional support, approval, and satisfaction, while the five negative scales measured conflict, criticism, pressure, dominance, and exclusion. Each scale contained three items and was scored by averaging the item responses (Furman & Buhrmester, 2010). The present study focused on the Closeness score, which is the mean of the five positive scale scores, for the mother, father, best same-sex friend, and best opposite-sex friend relationships. Participants completed the NRI-RQV assessment pre-COVID.
Children’s Depression Inventory (CDI)
The CDI questionnaire is a self-report measure that assesses participants’ depressive symptoms (Kovacs, 1992). Scores were calculated by summing the item responses, which were Likert style (not often/doesn’t apply to me, sometimes/somewhat applies to me, very often/strongly applies to me). Participants completed the CDI assessment pre-COVID and during COVID.
Screen for Child Related Anxiety Disorders (SCARED)
The SCARED questionnaire is a self-report measure that assesses participants’ anxiety symptoms. Each item had Likert-style responses (0 to 2: 0 = not true, 2 = very true) and was categorized into one of five subscales: panic disorder or significant somatic symptoms, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), separation anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, and significant school avoidance. A total sum score of 25 or above (out of 82) indicated the possible presence of an anxiety disorder (Birmaher et al., 1997). The present study focused only on the GAD subscale, where a sum score over 9 indicated the possible presence of GAD. Participants completed the SCARED assessment pre-COVID and during COVID.
Using IBM®️ SPSS®️ Statistics (v.27) software, we conducted two paired samples t-tests to examine whether depressive and anxiety symptoms increased during the pandemic as compared to pre-pandemic. Further, we conducted follow-up partial correlations (controlling for pre-pandemic symptoms) to investigate the relationship between relationship quality and depressive/anxiety symptoms during the pandemic.
Results & Discussion
Figure 1. Pre-COVID-19 vs. COVID-19 SCARED GAD Subscale t-test
Figure 2. Pre-COVID-19 vs. COVID-19 CDI Total t-test
Table 1. Correlations between SCARED GAD (COVID-19), CDI (COVID-19), and peer relationships
COVID-19 SCARED GAD Subscale
COVID-19 CDI Total
NRI-RQV Best Same-Sex Friend Closeness (pre-COVID)
NRI-RQV Best Opposite-Sex Friend Closeness (pre-COVID)
Controls: pre-COVID SCARED or pre-COVID CDI p < .05* p < .01** p < .001***
Table 2. Friendship closeness vs. COVID-19 symptoms regressions
COVID-19 SCARED GAD Subscale (β)
COVID-19 CDI Total (β)
NRI-RQV Best Same-Sex Friend Closeness (pre-COVID)
NRI-RQV Best Opposite-Sex Friend Closeness (pre-COVID)
Controls: pre-COVID-19 SCARED and CDI; COVID-19 SCARED or CDI p < .05* p < .01** p < .001*** trending****
Results indicated support for the first hypothesis. Across the sample, participants had greater depressive (t = -4.88, p <.001) and anxiety (t = -3.07, p < .01)symptoms during the COVID-19 pandemic, as compared to pre-pandemic. However, results indicated only partial support for the second hypothesis. Pre-pandemic friendship closeness was associated with changes in anxiety and depressive symptoms; specifically, stronger pre-COVID same-sex friendship closeness uniquely correlated with smaller increases in anxiety symptoms during COVID (r = -.29, p < .01), while stronger pre-COVID opposite-sex friendship closeness uniquely correlated with smaller increases in depressive symptoms during COVID (r = -.26, p < .01). When controlling for pre-pandemic symptoms, pre-COVID same-sex friendship closeness still predicted changes in COVID anxiety symptoms (r = -.17, p < .01). Mother and father relationships were not found to be significantly predictive of changes in mental health during COVID.
It is possible that participants were more comfortable expressing worry to same-sex friends (girls), buffering against increased anxiety symptoms. Perhaps they shared feelings about missing friends or romantic interests at school. Findings also suggest that opposite-sex friends (boys) may have helped improve participants’ moods, buffering against increased depressive symptoms. The girls may have had a crush or two and were happier interacting with them, even if only virtually, while following stay-at-home orders.
The sample was predominantly Caucasian and middle class, and from the Long Island, New York area. As such, the sample is certainly not representative of the entire United States, as the U.S. is much more racially and socioeconomically diverse. It is unclear whether or not these results would be similar for individuals of different backgrounds, since a variety of factors, including race, ethnicity, sex, and economic class, impact the degree to which people have been affected, either positively or negatively, by the pandemic (Center for Disease Control and Prevention). For example, Black and Indigenous Americans had the highest COVID-related death rates, while Asians and Whites had much lower rates (APM Research Lab Staff). According to the Pew Research Center, lower-income individuals were also more likely to report lost income and jobs due to the pandemic (Parker et al., 2020). As such, the present study’s sample may not have been affected by COVID-19 as much as other groups.
Further, all measures were self-reported, so participants may have been reluctant to share the full extent of their relationships and COVID-19 experiences. Another important consideration is that there was over a year, on average, between the pre-COVID and during-COVID assessments, meaning we could not account for potential significant life changes, such the death of a parent, losing touch with a friend, moving to a new place, and changes in relationship nature itself. Therefore, the present study’s results regarding pre-pandemic relationship quality may not be fully applicable to pandemic-era relationship health.
Overall, the results were largely what we hypothesized. Increased anxiety and depressive symptoms during the COVID-19 pandemic were evident across the sample and peer relationships predicted changes in mental health. Future studies should investigate these findings further and consider potential gender, race, and socioeconomic class differences that were not found in the present sample. Social factors like gender norms, double sex standards, race/ethnicity, and wealth may further influence the nature of adolescents’ social support networks and how they experienced the COVID-19 pandemic.
Birmaher, B., Khetarpal, S., Brent, D., Cully, M., Balach, L., & Kaufman, J. (1997, April). The screen for child anxiety related emotional disorders (SCARED): Scale construction and psychometric characteristics. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry 36: 545–553. https://doi.org/10.1097/00004583-199704000-00018
Furman, W., & Buhrmester, D. (2010). Network of relationships questionnaire manual. Unpublished manuscript, University of Denver, Denver, CO, and the University of Texas at Dallas.
Hawes, M.T., Szenczy, A.K., Klein, D.N., Hajcak, G., & Nelson, B.D. (2021, January 13). Increases in depression and anxiety symptoms in adolescents and young adults during the COVID-19 pandemic. Psychological Medicine, 1–9. https://doi.org/10.1017/s0033291720005358
Hyde, J.H., Mezuklis, A.H., & Abramson, L.Y. (2008). The ABCs of depression: Integrating affective, biological and cognitive models to explain the emergence of the gender difference in depression. Psychological Review, 115, 291-313. https://doi.org/10.1037/0033-295x.115.2.291
Magson, N.R., Freeman, J.Y., Rapee, R.M, Richardson, C.E., Oar, E.L., & Fardouly, J. (2021). Risk and protective factors for prospective changes in adolescent mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 50, 44-57. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-020-01332-9
Kovacs, M. (1992). Children’s depression inventory. Multi-Health Systems, Inc.
Santini, Z.I., Koyanagi, A., Tyrovolas, S., Mason, C., & Haro, J.M. (2015, April 1). The association between social relationships and depression: A systematic review. Journal of Affective Disorders, 175, 53–65. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jad.2014.12.049
Many adults with yearbooks filled with high school “horror stories” will claim they originated from the rigid, harsh social structure they had to adhere to, complete with bullies, queen bees, and their select array of victims. This myth is the reason behind many administrative efforts to integrate students in middle schools and high schools across the country as an attempt to attack the issue of social circles or “cliques” from multiple angles. When doing this, they often think that tackling the main problem involves eliminating the social hierarchies that exist in the halls of almost every high school. While this seems to be in the students’ best interests, it may be doing more harm than help. What teachers and administrators often fail to recognize is that when students are socially structured, they are able to create identities for themselves and thrive in the niches that the school environment creates for them. While most people assume this means that a sense of privilege will linger among several of these social standings, it should be noted that allowing students to stay comfortably within their social groups might be a better alternative than forcing them to intermingle. Although people have misconceptions about the nature of so-called “cliques,” and are therefore enforcing programs to dismember them, allowing these social circles to thrive, while taking care to encourage healthy cooperation between them, can help students develop psychologically in group settings and avoid the negative effects of not having a social group to call their own.
Much of the skepticism surrounding the existence of social circles in schools comes from stereotypical assumptions about them. These are often fueled and exaggerated by the media, through means such as books, television series, and teen-drama movies. The entirety of the infamous 2004 comedy Mean Girls revolves around a typical new girl trying to outmaneuver the social ladder that exists at her new school, including the “A-list girl clique” described in the summary provided on the internet movie database, IMDb. In this movie, many types of cliques and social circles are represented, as well as a clearly defined ladder that is topped by the so called “mean girls.” The movie highlights the entitled, harmful personalities of those who top these social hierarchies and proposes that cliques tend to remain vicious towards each other and cannot coexist peacefully (IMDb). Media such as this promote a general sense of wariness in the minds of their audiences, which include families, educators, and administrators, through their use of pure exaggeration. One may argue that some schools do in fact have a strong presence of social hierarchies and social ladders, but it must also be noted that this is not very different from how society is structured in a world outside of the school building. Status is not a foreign concept for our communities, and treating it as such in school doesn’t prepare students for what they will face long after graduating from their microcosms of the real world. However, it is possible to attract attention towards eliminating the toxic potentials of social hierarchies while still encouraging the social groups.
Social circles have existed in schools for generations, and although the way they’re structured has varied through generations, their general formulas remain fairly consistent. Cliques are nothing new, as shown by Jerry Adler, a former senior editor of Newsweek who has written for magazines such as The New Yorker,The Smithsonian,and Scientific American. In a 1999 Newsweek article, he explains that these groups include “athletes and preppies and wanna-be gangsters; pot-smoking skaters and sullen punks; gays and nerds and, yes, morbid, chalk-faced Goths,” and remain “surprisingly similar from coast to coast” (Adler). This consistency further supports the idea that these social structures are not only normal, but even instinctive, especially for adolescents. Shayla Ahamed, a blogger from Penn State University, writes that most people are simply “inclined to become friends with people that are similar to them and share their interests,” claiming that while negative side effects seem to be the focus in the media, forming groups are for the students’ own benefit (Ahamed). Additionally, Daniel A. McFarland, a sociology professor at Stanford University, uses his 2014 study for the American Sociological Review to discuss details of social structures, calling them “supportive and protective” and claiming that this is what leads students to tend to create them more often than not (McFarland). Perhaps the universality in these adolescents’ instincts to self-segregate is an important reason why we should nurture, rather than destroy, this phenomenon that we term “cliques.”
Although Adler describes that in some places, these hierarchies demand a certain evaluation of “status” be added to the existing situations, this is not always the case (Adler). McFarland discusses how “adolescent societies” form when students begin to create groups “with individuals who share similar attributes, behaviors, or attitudes,” continuously emphasizing the term “homophily” to describe how students constantly look for a sense of “familiarity” (McFarland). As students begin the extremely trying time in their lives corresponding to their high school years, their need for connecting to others like them increases immensely, highlighting the importance of having a strong social system to guide them (McFarland). Although one may believe that social divisions can lead to insensitivity or other undesirable side effects like bullying, the truth is that proper lessons in respect can, together with these groups, be advantageous to the student body.
These avoidable consequences of cliques encourage educators and administrators to overcompensate and actually cause more harm. This anti-clique mentality is inspiration for programs such as “Mix It Up at Lunch,” a social campaign started by the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Learning for Justice project. The “Mix It Up” program aims to encourage students to spend time at lunch with people who are not in their primary friend groups by eating with people outside of those social circles. Learning for Justice has also created multiple other activities to promote integration, including “Mix it Up Dialogue Groups” (“Mix it Up”). Another such example of programs created in an attempt to dismantle these social structures is Abigail N. Kirk’s teacher inquiry for Penn State University called “Kick the Cliques,” in which she promotes classroom activities to encourage girls to cooperate with each other while avoiding the creation of self-made groups (Kirk). These and other similar programs aim to teach students to adapt to other personalities and promote large group settings by straying away from creating smaller groups or self-segregating. While their intentions are pure, programs like these are usually a mix of ineffective and awkward for the students being forced into them, typically without having the choice to opt out. While one may argue that current discomfort will pay off later on, the chances of making most long-lasting friendships from continuously forced collaborations are slim. Furthermore, continuous efforts by the administration to intervene in students’ social decisions can be more harmful than beneficial.
Rather than trying to eliminate these cliques, schools should embrace the idea of encouraging kids to thrive within their own social circles. Physician Susan Biali Haas, M.D. argues in her 2013 Psychology Today article, “Stop Trying to Fit In, Aim to Belong Instead,”that people should stop “trying to be something [they’re] not in order to gain acceptance,” which is what integration promotes (Haas). This viewpoint emphasizes the idea that people should embrace their own characteristics and look for those with similarities in order to find their social circles rather than drastically changing their personalities to match those of a preexisting group. The alternative to having to change oneself for the benefit of fitting in would be to allow students to create groups that are naturally suited for their personality types and interests — in other words, allowing them to focus on belonging (Haas). The concept of belonging encourages self-acceptance and self-esteem, thereby providing students with more helpful guidelines for life and helping redirect the goals of administrators. For example, rather than focusing on rearranging students’ social groups, administrative intervention can include teaching students to avoid mean or hateful actions towards those who don’t necessarily fit into their own cliques. Furthermore, author Mark Rowh writes in an article for Current Health 2 that many students claim cliques can be “useful anchors in their social lives,” showing the true benefits they can have on the socioemotional health of students (Rowh).
Being in small group settings can be psychologically beneficial, and studies of “social psychology, for example, examine how emotion, cognition, and action are shaped by the social environment” (McFarland). In an interview with psychologist Dr. Stacey Scott from Stony Brook University, whose research specializes in emotions and stress in development throughout the lifespan, she described the importance of having “social support” throughout one’s life and claims that adolescents require that strong support just like adults do (Scott). She explains further by saying that the social segregation that occurs during high school or one’s adolescence is representative of how “adults function in society,” even claiming that “adults aren’t necessarily friends with everyone, so adolescents shouldn’t be expected to be either” (Scott). She also suggested that other research has been conducted in the past to explain the normalcy of students to “view their peers as being nominated under certain groups” and that this is not something we necessarily need to eliminate (Scott). It also encourages students to join small yet fundamental clubs and sports. These clubs and sports follow the same general guidelines that most cliques do — the only difference between most of these clubs and allowing students to create their own social circles is the absence of administrative involvement. Furthermore, cliques and social groups help students develop and thrive within a self-made “niche in some section of [their] society,” as examined by psychologist Jeffrey Jensen Arnett from the University of Maryland College Park in a 2000 article for the American Psychologist (Arnett).
The fate is much worse for students who don’t belong to a clique at all. While students may think that most of the so-called “shunning” comes from social classes of higher status towards those of lower status, the ones who don’t belong to a specific group often get the worst of the blow. Chris MacLeod, a registered social worker who founded the website Succeed Socially, claims that failing to socially integrate can lead to “slip[ping] through the cracks” of the community (MacLeod). This feeling of not being “right” for a certain group can lead to feelings of loneliness and exclusion. Although it’s true that those who don’t necessarily conform to a certain group may choose to be that way, either because they “don’t have enough” of whatever that particular group demands of them or simply because they believe those groups are either “on a pedestal” or “below them,” MacLeod suggests that eliminating these mindsets and embracing the idea of joining a group would prove to be beneficial to one’s social state (MacLeod). MacLeod supports the idea that joining such groups even when apprehensive could help improve one’s social skills such as “making conversation, feeling more comfortable around others, [and] being able to open up to people” (MacLeod). Daniel A. McFarland further discusses the importance of this “peer network” in his research by stating that “cliquing increases” during adolescence because of the “attachment shift from parents and family to peers” (McFarland). Allowing these close-knit relationships to form between students would be a better alternative for educators instead of trying to break these social structures down. This, in turn, will eliminate many of the problems associated with adolescent loneliness, as described by researcher Ahmet Gurses in his 2011 article for Procedia Social and Behavioral Sciences as he attempts to connect the problems of loneliness in high school to “academic unsuccessfulness” (Gurses). Students without groups at all can find themselves falling into a spiral of adolescent loneliness and social awkwardness, as described by MacLeod. The simple alternative is to embrace the benefits cliques can have on the student population (MacLeod).
Although the use of the words “clique” and “social circle” have negative connotations, it should be noted that the majority of these assumptions about the implications of creating social structures come from personal experience. Most phenomena in society have the potential for negative side effects, but it is wiser to eliminate the side effects rather than their causes. Allowing social structures to flourish in a high school setting can actually be beneficial to the students both socially and psychologically. Rather than implementing programs to negate and eliminate the instinct of high schoolers to self-segregate, schools and educators should work to promote healthy segregation. This would encourage students to embrace their differences and connect with others by developing their similarities. Therefore, programs originally intended to eliminate the prospect of social groups should be redirected in order to fuel the creation of healthy divisions among students while promoting sympathy and amiability between these divided groups. The main focus of administrators and educators should be shifted from reworking preexisting divisions that students make instinctively to teaching students how these divisions can help them flourish as they enter adulthood and the outside society.
Adler, Jerry. “The Truth about High School.” Newsweek, 10 May 1999, www.newsweek.com/truth-about-high-school-166686.
Ahamed, Shayla. “The Science of Cliques.” SiOWfa15: Science in Our World: Certainty and Controversy, Penn State University , 8 Sept. 2015, sites.psu.edu/siowfa15/2015/09/08/the-science-of-cliques/.
Arnett, Jeffrey Jensen. “Emerging Adulthood: a Theory of Development from the Late Teens through the Twenties.” American Psychologist, vol. 55, no. 5, 2000, pp. 469–480.
Gurses, Ahmet. “Psychology of Loneliness of High School Students.” Procedia Social and Behavioral Sciences, vol. 15, 2011, pp. 2578–2581.
Kirk, Abigail N. “Kick the Cliques: Activities to Promote Positive Relationships among Girls in the Classroom.” Penn State U, 26 Apr. 2006. Penn State University, www.yumpu.com/en/document/read/51491966/kick-the-cliques-activities-to-promote-positive-relationships-among-. Manuscript.
Perhaps the most defining moment of the Women’s Rights Movement to date was the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920 following the valiant efforts of those who spearheaded the project, such as Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and those who fearlessly backed the movement as a novel mark of progressivism. This momentous occasion is regarded as the single largest extension of democratic enfranchisement in the history of the United States (“The woman suffrage movement”). Despite such enormous strides having been accomplished for the advancement of women in a society where men had always dominated the government, the economy, the workforce, etc., women are far from seeing gender equality in the United States. Although the right to enfranchisement has contributed to the virtual elimination of overt prejudice, implicit bias against women still pervades. Evidence of such implicit bias is seen in numerous places including pop culture, educational institutions, and the workplace. Particularly in the workplace, despite making gains in the labor force participation rate over the last several decades, women working in male-dominated fields have significantly different experiences at work than their counterparts in fields with more female representation (Parker, 2018). Gender discrimination stands as an impediment to many women’s success in their professional and occupational lives, and often deters them from seeking promotions/leadership. Thus, perceived gender discrimination in the workplace has profound negative effects on women’s mental health regarding clinical depression and anxiety, especially in comparison to men’s mental health when faced with the adverse stimuli of gender-based prejudice.
Gender discrimination in the workforce manifests itself in various forms and is thus perceived in varying extents of severity. One of the most pronounced forms of gender discrimination is the wage gap between men and women, with women earning about 80% of every dollar that a man makes for the same or similar job. Particularly in male-dominated fields, a toxic workplace culture is developed in which job performance and commitment are measured solely by the number of hours dedicated to work, the number of weekend shifts taken, etc. This takes away any hope for having flexible hours, which many women need in order to balance family commitments (as women are often primarily charged with keeping up with familial responsibilities). Consequently, many women are unjustly perceived to be lazy, not dedicated, and not committed to their job role. The lack of female role models in senior roles and leadership positions is also quite disheartening when it comes to female empowerment and promotion. Without figureheads for reference, women are more likely to undervalue themselves, be modest in talking about their accomplishments, and forgo opportunities to seek promotions (Agarwal, 2018). Women with a bachelor’s degree or higher report experiencing higher levels of workplace discrimination than women with lower levels of education. 57% of employed women with postgraduate degrees report experiencing some form of gender discrimination, compared to 40% of working women with a bachelor’s degree and 39% of women who did not complete college (Parker & Funk, 2017). Similar trends are seen when it comes to receiving support from senior leaders, being passed over for promotions, feeling isolated at work, and being paid less than their male counterparts. 30% of women with family incomes of over $100,000 say they’ve been paid less than a man doing comparable work, compared to 21% of women with lower incomes (Parker & Funk, 2017). Regarding the workplace environment, women employed in majority-male workplaces are more likely to see their gender as a limiting factor to their professional advancement, are less likely to report fair treatment in personnel matters, and experience more gender discrimination. 49% of women working in male-majority workplaces report sexual harassment as a problem in their workspace, compared to 32% of women who say the same about female-majority workplaces. Lastly, only 49% of women in male-dominated workplaces report that their workplace is putting enough effort into increasing workplace diversity, compared to 78% of women working in places with an even gender mix and 71% of women working in female-dominated places (Parker, 2018).
The manifestation of gender discrimination and implicit bias against women in different forms and at so many different levels often translates into adverse consequences on women’s mental health. In a study titled “Perceived discrimination and health: A meta-analytic review,” Pascoe and Richman defined gender discrimination as a “behavioral manifestation of a negative attitude, judgment, or unfair treatment toward members of a group” and included studies that discussed poor service and treatment of women in public situations, derogatory comments, and harassment (Pascoe & Richman, 2009). It was found that perceived discrimination plays a role in increasing the incidence of depression, psychological distress, and anxiety. Experiencing discrimination on a regular basis causes more frequent activation of the body’s natural stress response, resulting in a perpetual negative mood state. Chronic stress and discrimination may also diminish one’s level of self-control, leading to increased use of and reliance on smoking, alcohol, and other substances to relieve the negative mood state. This may also decrease engagement in healthy habits, such as cancer screening and diabetes management (Pascoe & Richman, 2009). Risk of depression, in particular, is increased by stressful life events such as the loss of a loved one, a chronic disability/illness, or a business failure. Rejection, social exclusion, and embarrassment/humiliation also contribute to increased risk of depression. Gender discrimination in the workplace increases the odds that women will develop depression, regardless of the type of discrimination faced, whether it be regarding hiring, promotion, assignment of job-related tasks, wages, and firing. Women under 40 years old are particularly susceptible to developing depressive symptoms due to workplace gender discrimination compared to women over 40, adjusting for socio-demographic factors (Kim et al., 2020).
While gender discrimination often puts women at a disadvantage, it is important to recognize that men could also be subject to such discrimination in the workplace. Due to the salience of historical instances of gender-based discrimination impeding women’s social advancement, most empirical research has focused exclusively on the impact of gender discrimination on women. This may be due to the fact that women have been entering male-majority fields at accelerating rates over the past several decades, but men’s entry into female-dominated fields has been largely stagnant. Regardless, research into gender discrimination may also apply to men entering female-dominated fields. Francesca Manzi of the Department of Psychology at New York University reviewed congruity models of gender discrimination (CMDs) to determine if men in female-majority fields face the same challenges as women in male-majority domains. It is important to note that while it is possible for men to be subject to gender discrimination, they may not be perceived as victims because they do not belong to a group that is commonly discriminated against, and discrimination of an “upper-class group” by a “lower-class group” (in this case, women discriminating against men) is usually not perceived as such. Female-majority occupations are often devalued and perceived to require less skill and intelligence, and thus do not come with significant status or monetary rewards, so exclusion from these occupations on the basis of gender is not seen as socially or economically hindering, and thus is not seen as discrimination. A potential source of stress, however, could be the incongruity of gender identity and occupation. Men may feel increased rates of depression and anxiety after perceiving a conflict between their gender and their job, which may lead to lower job satisfaction, dedication, and commitment. This is largely tied to the stereotype threat that comes from gender norms, where men’s quality of performance in female-dominated jobs is impaired when their gender is made salient (the stereotype threat also affects women in male-dominated jobs). Conversely, it has previously been reported that men do not face gender discrimination in female-oriented jobs and actually experience facilitated upward mobility on the organizational ladder due to their gender (gender-based male advantage in female-dominated jobs is known as the “glass escalator” phenomenon). Unlike in the case of women being seen as incompetent in a “man’s” field, a man’s gender is seen to be a positive attribute that he brings to an otherwise female-dominated field, and thus the male stereotype works in his favor. Ultimately, this suggests that men have the advantage over women, even in female-dominated professions. Accordingly, men report receiving workplace support and report low levels of workplace inequality and/or mistreatment. Compared to the anti-female sentiment in male-dominated jobs, the anti-male sentiment in female-dominated jobs is insignificant (Manzi, 2019).
The existing literature shows that both men and women can experience gender discrimination in the workplace. Due to the relative recency of the Women’s Rights Movement, the #Metoo movement, etc. women still have a long way to go in terms of equality and unfortunately bear the brunt of workplace gender discrimination. Women are subject to lower wages, fewer promotional opportunities, workplace isolation, sexual harassment, etc. On the other hand, it is important to recognize the barriers that men may face upon entry to female-majority professions, although further research must be done on this topic. Men face challenges associated with workplace gender discrimination, but on a much smaller scale than women, as they are less likely to report lower wages, be regarded as incompetent due to gender, receive less support from senior leaders, and be passed over for important assignments (Parker & Funk, 2017). Regardless, both men and women may experience some extent of psychological distress, depression, and negative mood state as a result of gender discrimination and/or incongruity between gender and occupation. Most men (67%) and women (68%) report that their gender has not played any role in hindering their professional success, but some workers are still experiencing the challenges of gender-based prejudice (Parker & Funk, 2017). Actions can be taken to counteract implicit bias and gender discrimination by encouraging diversity in workplaces (especially in occupations that are either male- or female-dominated) and normalizing the presence of other gender(s), allowing flexibility in work schedules, promoting female leaders, having strict disciplinary policies against sexual harassment, enforcing equal pay laws, and researching occupational barriers impeding men. Eliminating workplace gender discrimination may be a slow process, but with time, dedication, and sincere activism, it is an immense stride toward achieving true gender equality in America.
Kim, G., Kim, J., Lee, S.-K., Sim, J., Kim, Y., Yun, B.-Y., & Yoon, J.-H. (2020). Multidimensional gender discrimination in workplace and depressive symptoms. PloS One, 15(7), e0234415.
Manzi, F. (2019). Are the processes underlying discrimination the same for women and men? A critical review of congruity models of gender discrimination. Frontiers in Psychology, 10. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00469
When you think about mental health, what comes to mind?
Are you thinking of emotions, or maybe just general well-being?
Did you know that mental health plays a significant role in your physical health as well?
Depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions are often associated with our emotional responses. Yet there are physical characteristics of mental health conditions that aren’t as readily acknowledged such as muscle tension, upset stomach, and chest pain (“Stress symptoms,” 2019).
Why do mental and physical health go hand in hand?
This is because a disruption in mental health can prevent us from maintaining a healthy lifestyle. As the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion states (2020), “Mental illnesses, such as depression and anxiety, affect people’s ability to participate in health-promoting behaviors.” For someone debilitated by mental health, riding a bike may not be as easy for them compared to someone who may be in a stronger state of mental health. The neglect of our health due to psychological conditions can lead to physical symptoms.
For instance, some common physical signs of depression are fatigue, changes in appetite, and headaches (“Depression,” 2018). Anxiety can also cause fatigue, rapid heart rate, and a decline in focus (“Anxiety disorders,” 2018). Anyone experiencing physical symptoms like these should recognize that it could be due to mental health, which is an aspect of our lives that is often ignored. Mental health should receive the critical attention needed in order to lessen these physical symptoms and achieve a happier, healthier life.
Those who are battling psychological conditions may also be at risk for long term physical health conditions.
Studies have shown that people who are struggling with mental health are more likely to have certain health conditions. The New Zealand Journal of Psychology studied the correlation between mental health and physical health and found that those with psychological conditions such as depression and anxiety are more likely to suffer from cardiovascular disease, stroke, arthritis, asthma, and chronic pain (Lockett et al., 2018). The careful treatment of our mental health can help to prevent the development of serious physical conditions.
How can we take care of our health?
Make sure you are listening to yourself both mentally and physically, as the two coincide with one another. Pay attention to how much sleep you get, provide your body with enough nutrients, and exercise daily. Set aside time to find and indulge in activities that make you feel good. Most importantly, don’t be afraid to reach out! If you feel that you are struggling, don’t hesitate to speak to a friend, family member, counselor, or someone you trust. They are there to help you.
Think back again: What is mental health to you? Did your answer change, or did it remain the same? Either way, everyone can take more time to learn about mental health and how much it truly influences our lives.
National Mental Health Resources
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: +1 (800) 273 – 8255
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline: +1 (800) 662 – HELP (4357)
Lockett, H., Jury, A., Tuason, C., Lai, J., & Fergusson, D. (2018). Comorbidities between mental and physical health problems: An analysis of the New Zealand Health Survey data. New Zealand Journal of Psychology, 47(3), 5–11.
Whether we want to believe it or not, stereotypes control our conscious and subconscious thoughts, influencing our actions and behaviors towards society. As Leslie Scrivener’s article “The Cult of the Mean Girl” highlights, our perceived ideologies about how women behave toward each other influence our behavior in practice. Because we believe women are supposed to indulge in gossip and jealousy due to social norms, we as a society expect and even participate in this behavior. Ideologies and perceptions of men’s behavior also exist; while society perceives women as emotional and judgmental, we also expect men to remain professional, dominant, and violent. These thoughts and expectations not only affect how we behave towards others but also how we recognize ourselves.
As soon as we are born, we gain awareness about the accepted and rejected behaviors in our society. One of these expected roles of a woman include “being nasty to each other … one of the rigidly enforced North American standards of what constitutes femininity” (Scrivener 1). Society expects women to treat each other as antagonistic competition, making them their own worst enemies. Little girls are not directly taught about these attitudes from their mothers, yet women around the world understand and engage in hostility towards each other. Girls watch their mothers gossip about neighbors and coworkers and administer this pettiness within themselves as well.
Society expects young women to rely entirely on their husbands and center their appearance, behavior, and mindset around what the men in their life anticipate and desire. As a result, women may prioritize their romantic relationships over friendships with other females since “women receive messages that their primary relationship should be with men, and that they have to compete for those relationships” (Scrivener 3). This often induces unwarranted aggression and possessiveness as part of the rivalry against female peers and thus destroys any connection they once felt. With the heavy emphasis on supporting the patriarchy, the media influences women to yearn for successful romantic relationships as their ultimate goal in life, belittling friendships and enhancing incivility among women. Because of this, when women suffer domestic violence and other relationship-related stress, they find themselves alone with no one to confide in. The stereotypes women comply with cause failures in their connection with peers and foster unnecessary cruelty. However, stereotypes and social norms control not only women, but also men.
We expect men to act dominant, controlling, and violent, and we criticize them when they do not make these traits apparent. From minor reprimanding like “real men don’t cry,” to extreme, life-changing situations such as forced enlistment into the military for men in South Korea, the way in which our society regards and expects men to behave alters the way they recognize and think of themselves. Generally, we expect men to remain nonchalant and unaffected, whereas we portray women as overly emotional. When men find themselves unable to effectively communicate their feelings because they learn at a young age that their tears are forbidden, they tend to internalize their feelings of depression, pain, and hatred, which may transition into radical acts of violence. Studies find that nearly 1 in 4 women experience physical abuse issued by an intimate partner, generally a male (National Domestic Violence Hotline). However, men are also victimized by abuse and rape. 15% of domestic violence victims are males who may not have the support they need to speak up about their struggles for fear of being labeled as an instigator or facing disbelief — or even taunts — rather than the help they desperately need (National Domestic Violence Hotline). Other men may resort to mass violence instead, attempting to get revenge on society for trying to isolate men from their feelings. The recent mass shootings witnessed in the United States have been overwhelmingly committed by male gunmen, from El Paso to Parkland, Florida. The terror and fear only increase as time goes on (Reese).
Rather than allowing young boys to communicate their feelings and feel heard, society ignores their violence as “boys will be boys” until the resentment transitions into horror. Additionally, with the emphasis on the patriarchy and the supposed role of a man, young boys are forced to grow up earlier than they are meant to. Society expects every young man to graduate college with a degree, find a career immediately, buy a house and find a suitable woman to make his wife before he grows old. The pressure put on young men without providing an effective and safe outlet causes harm both for themselves and the people surrounding them.
With this generation’s eagerness to raise awareness about the immoralities around the world, we would benefit from diminishing the unnecessary stereotypes held about gender and how one’s sex and gender should affect the way they convey their emotions. Parents should nurture their children in a way which young boys do not feel obligated to conceal their emotions and vulnerability, and young girls should feel encouraged to create enduring friendships with other females rather than focusing on finding an intimate partner. After all, we have bigger things to worry about than whether our behavior matches that which society expects of us.
Scrivener, Leslie. “The Cult of the Mean Girl.” Toronto Star, 5 Mar. 2006.
Brandon Chavez is a Class of 2024 undergraduate majoring in History. He enjoys learning about social and political issues in other countries & places around the world. He also enjoys learning about the challenges faced by indigenous populations.
***FALL 2020 CONTEST SUBMISSION***
”Suicide rates since 1960 in Micronesia (the U.S. Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands) have undergone an epidemic-like increase. This phenomenon is focussed narrowly within the 15-24-year male age-group”
Family plays a quite significant role in Micronesian society. An individual’s self-esteem is very dependent on the acceptance and support of the family, more so than any other contributing factor. A firm place and role in the family is a source of self-esteem for an individual. The significance of familial relations and approvals are shown with one of Hezel’s statistics in his data: “Over 70 percent of all the suicides since 1960 were precipitated by conflicts within the consanguineal family” (Hezel, 55).
This phenomenon of high suicide rates among the male youth in Micronesia was first noticed by Reverend Francis Hezel, a Jesuit who was the director of Xavier High School in the Chuuk islands for nearly 18 years. Reverend Hezel wrote a magazine article about this phenomenon in 1977. Dr. Rubinstein, a researcher at Honolulu’s East-West Center, and Reverend Hazel later decided to research the issue further in the following years where they collected many facts about the situation but unfortunately did not come up with any solutions at the time. A later publication by Hezel in 1989 described the magnitude of the situation in Micronesia in comparison with the suicide rates of the United States: “The general suicide rate for Truk is 40 per 100,000. The rate for Trukese males between 15 and 25 is a startling 250 per 100,000. This is 20 times the youth rate in the United States” (Hezel, 1989).
Hezel observed that these suicides can be linked to small disputes between a young man and an older family member, like an older sibling or parent. Two examples were cited by Hezel to show his observation of the trend: one 13 year old boy hung himself after being scolded by his mother and a 16 year old boy also hung himself after his father refused to give him $1.
Another trend Hezel recognized was that the suicides would be clustered in groups; the death of one young man would often lead to suicides of others in the area.
When thinking about possible causes for these trends, Hezel initially thought that the process of modernization and its pressures clashing with traditional island societies was responsible for this phenomenon. Hezel and Rubinstein looked further into the issue and found that poor family relations were a common pattern with their research.
Hezel also described another insight into the issue that he gathered from his research:
“Rather than an impulsive act, we found the suicides were often the result of a longterm intolerable situation”
Reverend Hezel’s insight reveals that these suicides in Micronesia are not impulsive, but that there is a cultural aspect to the situation, regarding a traditional island defense mechanism taken to an extreme. The word “amwunumwun” is used by the Chuukese to describe the behavior of young men using withdrawal to express shame or anger. Refusing to eat or being silent are examples of actions that these young men engage in when showing this behavior.
Reverend Hezel and Dr. Rubinstein believed that the strategy of amwunumwun became violent in the 1960s and 1970s where suicide might be considered the most extreme form of this behavior of bringing harm to oneself to save a relationship. A Chuukese suicide victim thought that being dead would repair more to a damaged relationship than if they were alive.In a later publication Reverend Hezel shed new insight on the suicide epidemic in the Chuuk islands (Hezel, 1989).
Hezel also sought to find out the significance of the types of interpersonal and familial relationships that lead to suicide in Micronesia. Below is the table of his recorded data:
The table revealed that a relational disruption or conflict between a young man and his parents was often the most common cause of relational disruption that led to suicide. Hezel notes that in suicide cases that were led by disruptions in nonfamily relationships, the victim might break off familial ties because of the shame that might be bringing to their family and fear of what their family members’ reactions woud be. The victim was ashamed of actions that could offend their family and feared a consequential disruption in familial relations.
In 2007, Dr. Mao-Sheng Ran, a professor at the University of Hong Kong, reviewed pre-existing data on the characteristics of suicide in Micronesia.
Dr. Ran’s research found another phenomena that highlights the effect of mental health on suicide in Micronesia the effect of mental health on suicide in Micronesia compared with another country such as the United States.
The bar graph above reveals an interesting and peculiar observation about the correlation between mental illness and suicide victims in Micronesia. Only 10% of suicide victims in Micronesia had psychiatric disorders, while 90% of suicide victims in the United States had mental illness. Dr. Ran states that: “Mental illness did not appear to be an important factor in Micronesian suicides. Most of the victims have had no serious delinquency problems, psychological abnormality, or psychosis” (Ran, 83).
Dr. Ran noted that intergenerational conflict was the most common cause that led to suicide and most suicides occured because of a conflict, misunderstanding or argument between a young victim and their parents or older relative.
The definition of anger in Hezel’s research is further explored in Dr. Ran’s review. Hezel’s publication in 1989 cited three distinct patterns of suicides which included anger suicides, shame suicides and psychotic suicides. It was previously mentioned in Hezel’s publication that anger suicides were the most prominent in Micronesian suicide cases, but this definition of anger adds a new understanding to the situation. Ran established that:”The definition of ‘anger’ was similar to the way Americans describe depression”(Ran, 2007, pg. 84). This definition of anger shows a cultural difference in how anger is defined in Micronesian society and American society.
The review also included several aspects and social changes that may be responsible for the high suicide rate in Micronesia. The first change is the expansion of a cash economy in Micronesia and the decreasing reliance on subsistence production. The production may be responsible for weakening the significance of clan and lineage activities. The decline in clan and lineage activities narrows social support for teenagers, increases reliance and dependence on parents, and increases parental-adolescent conflicts.The second change is the acceptance of suicide which can be attributed to this increase in suicide rates. As suicide becomes common among the youth, it became more acceptable and even expected.
According to Hezel, western solutions such as suicide prevention hotlines and counseling would not fully solve the suicide epidemic witnessed in Micronesia as the issue is not only psychological but also cultural. Dr. Ran offered several suggestions for future research to combat the issue. Ran suggests that there should be more surveillance on suicidal behavior in Micronesia, independent research on preventive and risk factors, and a longitudinal study on social and economic shifts affecting the male youth. Since there is not many mental health professionals available, Ran suggests that more individuals should be trained to counter the issue of suicide.
The Micronesian suicide epidemic is quite unique as the root of the issue is concerned more with the inter-generational conflict and socio-cultural elements found within Micronesian society rather than mental illness. Solutions to the issue and research on the topic cannot be treated in a western approach, as the act of suicide has shown to be woven into the youth culture of Micronesian society. Future studies, research, and clinical approaches must consider the socio-cultural elements of Micronesian society & family to make progress in combating the Micronesian suicide epidemic.
Throughout the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, we have heard the phrase “the coronavirus doesn’t discriminate” multiple times. But if the virus doesn’t discriminate, why are certain groups of people suffering more than others?
A perfect example of this social issue is the differences in fatality rates in New York City and its surrounding areas. On May 8, 2020, Dr. Sandro Galea reported that the fatality rate from COVID-19 in Brooklyn is 7.8%, in the Bronx is 6.5%, in Queens is 6.8%, in Nassau County is 3.8%, in Suffolk County is 2.6%. Brooklyn has had a COVID-19 fatality rate that is two times higher than in Nassau County. Both of these communities are only 50 minutes away from each other. So why are twice as many people dying from the pandemic in Brooklyn than in a neighboring community that is less than an hour away?
A number of risk factors have been identified as contributing to these differences. Most of these risk factors correlate with income and race (Brown & Ravallion, 2020). While anyone can be infected by COVID-19, people with low-income are suffering more cases and deaths than people with high-incomes. Researchers W. Holmes Finch and Maria E Hernández Finch (2020) at Ball State University examined incidence and death rates during the first ten weeks of the pandemic. They discovered that counties with higher overall poverty had higher numbers of confirmed COVID-19 cases than in other counties. Additionally, they discovered that a larger number of deaths were associated with higher incidence of low birth weights and urban areas.
People with low-incomes are not only at a higher risk for infection and other physical health conditions, but they are also at a higher risk for developing mental health issues (Khullar & Chokshi, 2018). Prior to the pandemic, the National Survey of Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) reported that 9.8 million adults in the United States had a serious mental illness and 25% of those individuals were below the poverty line. Some of the factors that contribute to this relationship are community violence, food insecurity, unstable housing, low-income, and low access to healthcare (Jordan, 2015). Living in this uncertainty can cause a lot of stress and anxiety, eventually leading to larger mental health issues.
Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, mental health symptoms have risen dramatically in the general population. In a KFF Tracking Poll, 53% of adults in the United States reported that the coronavirus has negatively impacted their mental health (Panchal et al., 2020). This was significantly higher than the mental health rates reported in the beginning of March. The pandemic has resulted in a lot of stress and anxiety about infection, social isolation, months of quarantine, the loss of jobs and businesses, and economic uncertainty. Additionally, Torales et al. (2020) reported that lower socioeconomic status (SES), interpersonal conflict, lower resilience, and lower social support are some risk factors that can increase mental health issues during the pandemic. The mental well-being of the general population has decreased, but what does this mean for individuals who were living with low-income before the start of the pandemic?
Residents of low-income communities suffered the mental health effects of poverty long before the coronavirus pandemic. The virus has only added stress to the daily lives of people in these communities. In general, people living with low-incomes report higher levels of negative mental health related to the coronavirus than those with high-incomes. In a KFF Tracking Poll conducted in July, 35% of individuals making less than $40,000 a year, 22% of individuals making between $40,000 to $89,999, and 20% of individuals making over $90,000 reported that they experienced negative mental health related to worry and stress from the coronavirus (Panchal et al., 2020). Additionally, Pew Research Center American Trends Panel conducted a survey measuring the proportion of respondents experiencing psychological distress (Keeter, 2020). They observed that psychological distress was substantially larger in participants in the lower income tertile (33%) than the upper income tertile (17%). Both of these findings suggest that people living with low-incomes are disproportionately affected by the pandemic than their advantaged counterparts.
The coronavirus calls attention to many social issues that are going on in the United States. These physical and mental health issues are not novel but are rooted in decades of systematic inequality. Residents of these low-income communities have always suffered the most. The pandemic has only exacerbated the issues that they deal with on a daily basis. The next time you hear someone say that the coronavirus doesn’t discriminate, please remember that some of us are at a higher risk for experiencing the negative effects of the virus.
Finch, W. H., & Finch, M. E. H. (2020). Poverty and Covid-19: Rates of Incidence and Deaths in the United States During the First 10 Weeks of the Pandemic. Frontiers in Sociology, 5.https://doi.org/10.3389/fsoc.2020.00047
Torales, J., O’Higgins, M., Castaldelli-Maia, J. M., & Ventriglio, A. (2020). The outbreak of COVID-19 coronavirus and its impact on global mental health. International Journal of Social Psychiatry, 66(4), 317–320. https://doi.org/10.1177/0020764020915212