New Study on Mental Health: Interventions need cultural, racial, social disparities awareness

October 24, 2022 - Shelly DeJong

Mental health has been a national concern for many Americans during COVID-19, but little research has been done to determine what factors have influenced mental health and how they compare across countries. New research from Michigan State University sampled five countries— the United States, Italy, Spain, Saudi Arabia, and India—and looked at what factors affected suicidal ideation risk during COVID-19 lockdown. 

The researchers found drug use, racial and ethnic identity, and gender identity increased the likelihood of suicidal ideation during COVID-19 lockdown—but not to the same degree in all countries. 

“There’s a substantial need for multicomponent mental health interventions that are not only culturally responsive but are also inclusive of substance use prevention and treatment as core intervention features,” said Kaston D. Anderson-Carpenter, Ph.D., M.P.H., assistant professor in MSU’s psychology department and co-author of the study. “To provide culturally responsive care, we need to think about people’s cultural backgrounds—especially when it comes to preventing suicides.” 

The study, published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research, is the first to examine suicidal ideation risk during COVID-19 lockdown across different countries. Data was collected online from the sample countries over a six-week period in partnership with Qualtrics. The sample size was 2,482 responses which is the largest dataset with an international focus on suicidality during COVID-19. 

In their analysis, researchers found that: 

  • Racial and ethnic minorities had a greater overall suicidal ideation risk in the United States.
  • Lesbian and gay adults in Saudi Arabia and bisexual adults in India had a greater suicidal ideation risk than their heterosexual counterparts.
  • Recent illicit drug use was a significant predictor of suicidal ideation during lockdown, especially in the United States and India.
  • Older age was associated with less suicidal ideation in the United States, Italy and Saudi Arabia.
“This study gives a better understanding of social disparities and how many people were exacerbated during the pandemic. Substance use and racial disparities are just some of the many social determinants of health contributing to disproportionalities in physiological distress for certain groups. An important takeaway for myself as a medical student is the essentiality of taking the extra minute to ask patients about mental well-being and substance use, especially during a pandemic,” said Deeshpaul Jadir, lead author of the study and a second-year student in the MSU College of Osteopathic Medicine.