The Weekly Dose
August 6, 2020
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Welcome to The Weekly Dose! Each week, we will review one scientific article, summarizing the research and providing key takeaways. Our goal in this endeavor is to make science understandable and accessible to all.
The findings from a Research Letter published on July 7 in JAMA suggest that the varied stressors introduced by COVID-19 may be associated with an increase in severe psychological distress among US adults. The study, led by investigators at Johns Hopkins University, analyzed April 2020 data from 1,468 respondents to the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 Civic Life and Public Health Survey. Respondents answered a set of questions (i.e., survey instrument) designed to elicit signs of depression, inability to work, difficulty carrying out routine activities, and seeking healthcare for these matters. The instrument, the Kessler 6 (K6) Psychological Distress Scale (named for its author, Dr. Ronald Kessler), is an important tool in social science because it has high validity, which means that it is effective at isolating--or what we scientists call “discriminating”--actual cases of serious mental illness from non-cases. The study’s authors compared the proportions of K6 scores indicating severe psychological distress from their 2020 sample to those provided by 25,417 respondents to a different national survey, fielded in 2018, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, called the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS). Their analysis was performed on the complete US adult samples and sub-samples of interest (e.g., groupings of race/ethnicity, sex, living situation, etc.). 
 
The results suggest that a higher percentage of April 2020 respondents had evidence of severe psychological distress than that of 2018 NHIS respondents. In the overall sample of US adults, 13.6% met the condition for severe psychological distress, as opposed to 3.9% in the 2018 NHIS sample. Analysis of the subsamples indicate high proportions of severe psychological distress in 2020 among Hispanics, young adults (<29 years), and individuals with annual household incomes
< $35,000.  
Key Takeaways: 

  • COVID-19 has been inordinately stressful to US adults. Uncertainty about this novel pathogen has disrupted the US economy and social structures, causing widespread behavioral changes. An increase in severe psychological distress from 2018 norms is probably a result of these and other COVID-19-related effects.
  • The uptick in severe psychological distress associated with the COVID-19 pandemic is likely an indication of an increase in serious mental illness among US adults, particularly young adults, Hispanics, and those with lower incomes.
  • The study’s design implies that 2018 benchmark data--collected from individuals other than those surveyed in 2020--are a reasonable substitute for “normal” psychological distress measures prior to the pandemic. This is a limitation of the study, which would have greater validity if the 2020 participants had provided equivalent data in 2018 or some other time prior to the pandemic. 
Who is VSC?

Vital Statistics Consulting (VSC) is a healthcare consultancy that specializes in the evaluation of policies and programs and provides independent, rigorous, innovative analysis to support data-driven recommendations that improve healthcare quality and organizational efficiency.
What's New at VSC?
Our CEO, Dr. Jessica Steier, had quite a busy week. She was a guest of Whitney Mendoza on The Jungle podcast, produced by Liger Partners, on which she discussed, among other things, the critical importance of translating research for non-scientists, VSC’s emerging leadership role in social determinants of health (SDOH), and our recent interdisciplinary COVID-19 virtual summit. Dr. Steier also participated in Diversity Alliance for Science’s Annual Pitch Competition, placing a highly respectable 4th place! For her efforts, she was awarded a cash prize and a meeting with Abbott Laboratories. We congratulate her for an outstanding effort!

Employee Spotlight
Each week, The Weekly Dose will introduce readers to one of our team members.

This week, VSC Senior Data Analyst, Dany Guerendo Christian, MA, PMP, is in the “spotlight.” We have asked her three questions, the answers to which reveal some of her professional and personal inspiration for working in the field of data science. 

 

Which people and/or events influenced your decision to work in this field?
Professor Alberto Torchinsky, my graduate academic advisor at Indiana University, who told me a degree in Math was better than one in Statistics; and Professor Paul Glassey who taught Numerical Analysis, and unknowingly fostered my interest in computer programming. Trying to combine the two, Math and Computer Science, I considered Actuarial Science but, after failing the 1st exam, realized it was not for me. I landed a job as a data analyst for a small firm in Cincinnati working on Dental Studies, and that's when it all started.

What was the answer you gave people as a child when asked what you want to be when you grow up? 
I wanted to be a writer, and I also wanted to be an agronomist. These two fields don't really go together, but it was important to my father that I be involved in science, so writing slowly faded as an interest.

What advice would you give yourself 3 years ago? 3 years from now?  

There is a French (my first language) saying: "Trois choses sont nécessaires pour réussir dans ses entreprises, avoir de la confiance en sa destinée, de la patience dans l'adversité, et de la prudence dans sa conduite." It means: Three things are necessary to be successful in your endeavors: to have confidence in your destiny, patience in adversity, and prudence in your conduct. That's the advice I would have given myself 3 years ago as well as 3 years from now.
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