Longitudinal associations between internalizing symptoms, social behavior, and social perceptions in the initial months of the COVID-19 pandemic: Findings from a transdiagnostic community sample

Benjamin A. Swerdlow, Sheri L. Johnson, Kiara R. Timpano, Patricia A. Porter, Amelia Dev

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Background. Burgeoning evidence suggests that loneliness during the COVID-19 pandemic is tied to high levels of depression and anxiety. The current study is unique, though, in examining which facets of social behavior and perceived social quality are most tied to internalizing symptoms using longitudinal data, including a pre-pandemic baseline, collected from a community sample of adults with pre-existing mental health concerns (analyzed n = 144). Methods. Participants completed measures of depressive and anxious symptoms pre-pandemic, followed by three weekly surveys during the pandemic. We distinguished four social variables: in-person social engagement, remote social engagement, social disruption, and social distress. OLS and mixed-effects regression models examined 1) pre-pandemic baseline symptoms as predictors of social functioning during the pandemic and 2) time-lagged associations between symptoms and social functioning during the pandemic. Results. Social behavior and social perceptions were dissociable. Baseline depressive, but not anxious, symptoms predicted greater social distress during the pandemic. Both anxious and depressive symptoms were predicted by social variables, but the specific associations differed: depressive symptoms were related to perceived social quality, whereas anxious symptoms were more tied to reported social behavior. Limitations. We relied on self-report indices, and causality should not be inferred directly from these correlational data. Conclusions. Overall, our results indicate that it is possible to follow social guidelines and even to spend relatively few hours socializing with close others, while still feeling connected and rewarded; however, people who struggle with depression and anhedonia were particularly vulnerable to distressing feelings of social disconnection amid the pandemic.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)805-812
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of affective disorders
Volume294
DOIs
StatePublished - Nov 1 2021

Keywords

  • COVID-19
  • Internalizing symptoms
  • Social functioning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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