Abstract: (WITHDRAWN) The Psychological Impact of Social Connectedness and Difficulties That Global Populations Encounter in the COVID-19 Pandemic â₀“ Testing a Moderated Mediation Model (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

All live presentations are in Eastern time zone.

431P (WITHDRAWN) The Psychological Impact of Social Connectedness and Difficulties That Global Populations Encounter in the COVID-19 Pandemic â₀“ Testing a Moderated Mediation Model

Tuesday, January 19, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Donghang Zhang, MSSW, MA, Research assistant, University of Louisville, Louisville, KY
Fei Sun, PhD, Associate Professor, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI
Beihai Zhang, PhD, Professor, Huazhong Agricultural University, Wuhan, China
Emma Sterrett-Hong, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Louisville, Louisville, KY
Backgrounds. The COVID-19 pandemic is a global coronavirus outbreak. Complying with the government's stay-at-home order or self-quarantine measure, people have to reduce social contact and increase social distancing, with accumulating difficulties they face, such as shortage of daily necessities and unemployment. Those who cannot access connection from external systems may perceive high levels of social isolation and loneliness and burden themselves mentally (Matthews et al., 2016; Selye, 2013). The relationships between isolation, loneliness, and depression have received increasing empirical attention (Cacioppo et al., 2008; Matthews et al., 2016). However, few studies have examined how social disconnectedness is associated with depression among global populations who are encountering the difficulties during the pandemic, or potential mechanisms of associations, and even fewer have examined these links that may be moderated by difficulties. Our study aims to investigate associations among social disconnectedness, difficulties that people face during the Covid-19 outbreak, and depression, as well as whether perceive social isolation mediates those associations.

Method. We conducted a web-based cross-sectional survey. Out of 1532 participants (72.5% males, 27.5% females), across 91 countries, anonymously attended our study, and their ages ranged from 17 to 61 (M = 28.07, SD = 5.2). We developed the difficulties scale to measure how respondents experienced challenges in their life during the pandemic, the social disconnectedness scale to assess their perceived levels of social participation, and the social isolation scale to measure their perceptions of isolation and loneliness. We also adapted the CES-D scale to measure levels of depression. The Cronbach's alpha of all scales was above .80. We tested a moderated mediation model through path analysis, coupled with performing the bootstrapping method to test the mediating effects of social isolation.

Results. We found that social disconnectedness and difficulties exerted a significant positive influence on perceived social isolation and depression. Results also revealed that perceived social isolation partially mediated the relationship between social connectedness and depression, indirect effect = .20, Confidence Interval = .15 to .25, as well as partially mediated the relationship between difficulties and depression, indirect effect = .18, Confidence Interval = .12 to .24. The results indicated the interaction effect between social connectedness and difficulties was not significant for perceived social isolation (β=.03, p=.737). Multigroup analyses revealed no difference in paths between gender groups, χ2 (df=3)=6.116, p =.106, and among SES groups, χ2 (df=6)=7.194, p =.303.

Conclusions and Implications. Our study fills the research gaps by analyzing mechanisms of association between social disconnectedness and depression. Social disconnectedness is found to link with depression, but the effect size is tiny. Perceived social isolation plays a critical role in mediating the effect on depression, which supports statements that the absence of social connection would not preclude people from experiencing depression (Hawkley & Cacioppo, 2010). Our study produces clinical implications for developing interventions programs that teach people to utilize developmentally appropriate methods for promoting social and emotional connections. To further understand the moderated mediation mechanism thoroughly, future research should investigate the role of moderators, such as attachment-based interaction and online social participation.