Stress related to COVID-19, loneliness and anxiety have been an often-reported mental health issue during the pandemic (Havnen et al., 2020; Luchetti et al., 2020). However, previous research found that resilience acted as a protective factor to reduce negative consequences after distressful events (PeConga et al., 2020). Although older adults are a higher risk group for COVID-19, researchers mentioned older adults have higher resilience (Pearman et al., 2021). However, studies about age and mental health during the pandemic are inconsistent. The current study examined stress related to COVID-19, loneliness, resilience, and anxiety in the U.S. Perceived physical health, living arrangements, and gender were also investigated, focusing on the moderating effects of age. The research aimed to examine (1) factors affecting the association between stress related to COVID-19 (hereafter, stress) and mental health and (2) the moderating effects of age on this association.
Data was collected from 571 adults (ages 18 through 88) living in the U.S. from May 4 to June 26, 2020. The dependent variable, anxiety (α = .92), was measured by the GAD-7 (Spitzer et al., 2006). Loneliness (α = .81) was measured by three items (Hughes et al., 2004), resilience (α=.90) was measured using the Brief Resilience Scale (Smith et al., 2008), and stress (α=.60) was measured using three items based on a survey questionnaire from Mohanty and colleagues (2020). Concerning the moderating effects of age, three age groups were investigated: older (aged 51 to 88), middle (aged 36 to 50), and younger (aged 18 to 35). Health, living arrangements, and gender were also investigated. A multi-group path analysis using Amos 25 was conducted; a maximum likelihood (ML) estimation was employed. Measurement invariance was investigated by comparing unconstrained and fully constrained models, both of which fit.
Among all age groups, loneliness was positively associated with anxiety, whereas resilience was negatively associated with anxiety. Health was negatively associated with loneliness for middle-aged and older adults but not for younger people. In addition, health was positively associated with resilience only for older people, while living alone was positively associated with loneliness only for older and younger people, but not for middle-aged people. However, living alone was positively associated with anxiety for older and middle-aged persons, but not younger people. Stress was positively associated with loneliness for the younger and middle-aged groups, whereas stress was positively associated with anxiety only for older people, although older people showed the lowest levels of stress and anxiety among the three groups. Being male was negatively associated with anxiety only for the younger age group.
Conclusions and Implications
The results showed that resilience acted as a protective factor against anxiety for all age groups, whereas loneliness was a risk factor for anxiety regardless of age. Moreover, moderating effects of age existed. These results suggest that social workers and practitioners should develop programs and services that may increase resilience and decrease loneliness during the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, interventions based on age differences are necessary during the pandemic.