From two large nationwide surveys in China around the time of the coronavirus outbreak, Johns Hopkins Carey Business School Assistant Professor Haiyang Yang found that the onset led to a 74 percent drop in overall emotional well-being.
Factors that accentuated the decline included residing near an outbreak epicenter, being a member of a vulnerable group such as the elderly, and dealing with relationship issues during a lockdown.
Yet, as noted by Yang and his co-author, Assistant Professor Jingjing Ma of Peking University, people who perceived themselves as knowledgeable about the virus – regardless of the actual amount of their knowledge – experienced more happiness during the outbreak than those who didn’t perceive themselves as informed about COVID-19.
This higher perception of one’s own knowledge was associated with a stronger sense of control, which helped protect emotional well-being, Yang says.
What’s more, this conclusion was largely consistent across demographic and economic groups.
“People’s perceptions about themselves are often more potent in influencing their emotional well-being than the corresponding objective aspects,” says Yang, a psychology expert.
He adds that the findings of the study, published in Psychiatry Research, could inform public policy makers and mental health authorities who seek to protect or boost psychological well-being during a major outbreak such as COVID-19.
“Resources for mental health care should be made more available to groups that are most psychologically vulnerable during an epidemic. Specific policies, programs, and interventions need to be developed to help foster positive family relationships during an extended lockdown. Also, efforts that increase people’s understanding of how to effectively prevent infection can help boost their sense of control and, consequently, their psychological health,” says Yang.
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