Assessing the Real-Time Mental Health Challenges of COVID-19 in Individuals With Serious Mental Illnesses: Protocol for a Quantitative Study

JMIR Res Protoc. 2020 May 22;9(5):e19203. doi: 10.2196/19203.


Background: The outbreak of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has caused significant stress and mental health problems among the general public. However, persons at greatest risk for poor mental health outcomes, such as people with serious mental illness, have been largely overlooked.

Objective: This paper presents the protocol for a study that aims to examine the mental health impact of COVID-19 and social distancing behaviors in people with serious mental illness and the behaviors undertaken to prevent COVID-19 infection in this group.

Methods: Participants will include individuals with serious mental illness (eg, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder) and nonpsychiatric control participants who are currently participating in or have previously participated in several ongoing parent observational studies. Data will be collected from April 2020 through August 2020. Participants will complete phone interviews at 2 time points to assess their current emotional functioning and discuss the measures they have taken to prevent COVID-19 infection. Baseline (pre-COVID-19) mental health, sampled by ecological momentary assessment over an extended period, will be compared with current mental health, also sampled by ecological momentary assessment over an extended period. Demographic, cognitive, and psychosocial factors at baseline will be used to examine risk and resilience to current mental health and coping.

Results: The inclusion of participants for the first round of telephone assessments started on April 3, 2020 and will be completed by May 31, 2020. As of April 30, 2020, 101 individuals had completed these first-round assessments. The second round of telephone assessments will likely occur between June 1, 2020, and August 31, 2020. Study results will be published in peer-reviewed scientific journals.

Conclusions: Our findings will have broad implications for understanding the psychological consequences of COVID-19 among vulnerable persons with serious mental illness and will provide the opportunity to identify targets to reduce negative outcomes in the future. We also hope our efforts will provide a roadmap and resources for other researchers who would like to implement a similar approach.

International registered report identifier (irrid): DERR1-10.2196/19203.

Keywords: COVID-19; coping; mental disorders; pandemic; psychology; public health; social distancing; stress; technology; telemedicine.