Association between psychological resilience and changes in mental distress during the COVID-19 pandemic

J Affect Disord. 2021 Mar 1;282:381-385. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2020.12.071. Epub 2020 Dec 25.


Background: Psychological responses to potentially traumatic events tend to be heterogeneous, with some individuals displaying resilience. Longitudinal associations between resilience and mental distress during the COVID-19 pandemic, however, are poorly understood. The objective of this study was to examine the association between resilience and trajectories of mental distress during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Methods: Participants were 6,008 adults from the Understanding America Study, a probability-based Internet-panel representative of the US adult population. Baseline data were collected between March 10 and March 31, 2020, with nine follow-up waves conducted between April 1 and August 4. Mixed-effects logistic regression was used to examine the association between date and mental distress, stratified by resilience level (low, normal, or high).

Results: In contrast to the high resilience group, participants in the low and normal resilience groups experienced increases in mental distress in the early months of the pandemic (low: OR=2.94, 95% CI=1.93-4.46; normal: OR=1.91, 95% CI=1.55-2.35). Men, middle-aged and older adults, Black adults, and adults with a graduate degree were more likely to report high resilience, whereas adults living below the poverty line were less likely to report high resilience.

Limitations: These associations should not be interpreted as causal, and resilience was measured at only one time-point.

Conclusions: Trajectories of mental distress varied markedly by resilience level during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, with low-resilience adults reporting the largest increases in mental distress during this crisis. Activities that foster resilience should be included in broader strategies to support mental health throughout the pandemic.

Keywords: COVID-19; mental health; resilience.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • COVID-19*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pandemics
  • Resilience, Psychological*
  • SARS-CoV-2