Session Abstract: In addition to increased mortality risk and the general dangers posed to physical health, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to widespread disruptions in daily social functioning and adverse psychological outcomes for many members of the general public. Personality factors relevant to coping and resilience, affect regulation, and interpersonal functioning have emerged as constructs of considerable importance for both behavioral health intervention and predicting long-term adaptation and health outcomes. This panel will feature presentations by researchers and clinicians practicing across a wide range of institutional contexts, including academic medical centers, national research laboratories, university settings, and long-term residential treatment facilities. Presenters will offer diverse perspectives on the relevance of personality theory and assessment for understanding interpersonal functioning and mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Lewis will first report findings from a general adult sample that show different longitudinal trajectories of suicide risk for individuals with anxious versus avoidant attachment types, with a particular focus on the influence of daily social contact as a protective factor against suicidal ideation during periods of social distancing. Dr. Roche will then share empirical findings from a longitudinal study of university students examining associations between interpersonal problems, COVID-19-related stressors, and daily social conflict arising from disagreements about pandemic-related safety measures. Next, drawing on emerging findings from a multidisciplinary study of “long hauler” patients, Dr. Lukowitsky will report findings on the prevalence of psychiatric symptoms and negative affect within patients contending with persistent physical health impairment following resolution of a COVID-19 diagnosis, with consideration for how these experiences may impact long-term recovery and clinical outcomes. Finally, reporting from the front lines of risk management and systems-based intervention, Dr. Waugh will discuss the utility of assessment psychology skills and perspectives in the development of a COVID-19 defense program implemented at the largest National Laboratory in the United States, which has been nationally recognized for its excellence and innovation. In his Discussion, Dr. Meehan will consider the broad implications of these presentations and findings for understanding the unique contributions of personality assessment for post-pandemic recovery (broadly defined at both individual, institutional, and community levels).
Chair Information: Katie C. Lewis, PhD
Discussant Information: Kevin B. Meehan, PhD | Long Island University-Brooklyn
Presentation 1 Title: Attachment, Social Contact, and Suicidality during COVID-19
Presentation 1 Abstract: The impact of reduced social contact on mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic has been identified as a major public health concern. While personality factors such as adult attachment style have been associated with elevated psychological distress during the pandemic, the longitudinal relevance of these factors and the role of daily social contact in mitigating distress remains poorly understood. This presentation will explore the relevance of attachment for understanding emotional distress and suicidality during the COVID-19 pandemic, based on the findings of an 8-week experience sampling study conducted during the COVID-19 pandemic. A general adult sample (n=184) recruited online completed measures of adult attachment style, loneliness, and history of suicidal ideation (SI) via smartphone. Loneliness, SI, and daily social contact were then assessed twice per week for eight weeks, yielding 1,124 unique observations over a span of five months. During the experience sampling period, high anxious attachment and trait loneliness were associated with more frequent prospective reports of SI, while proximal increases in SI were associated with decreased daily in-person contact. Interaction effects were found for avoidant attachment traits and in-person social contact, such that individuals with greater avoidant attachment traits were more likely to report increased SI in the context of lower daily in-person social contact. In addition to these experience sampling findings, cross-lagged associations showing causal associations between greater suicidality at pandemic onset and an amplification of anxious attachment traits six months later will be described and explored in the context of understanding long-term adaptation to pandemic-related adversity and stress. These findings together highlight the relevance of both enduring personality characteristics and daily social behaviors as risk factors for SI during the pandemic, pointing to potential targets for clinical intervention and future empirical study.
Katie C. Lewis, PhD
Michael J. Roche, PhD
Presentation 2 Title: Interpersonal Problems in the COVID-19 Era
Presentation 2 Abstract: The COVID-19 era continues to be one of the most challenging events to cope with in many people’s lifetime. In addition to a health crisis, this pandemic has also led to confusion and disagreements about how to understand and mitigate the COVID-19 virus. Early research has suggested that personality plays an important role in understanding compliance with mandates and restrictions (Good, 2021; Zajenkowski et al., 2020). However, the full interpersonal impact of COVID-19 has not been adequately studied. Specifically, interpersonal problems may be exacerbated by a pandemic environment that has increased stress and uncertainty, along with fundamental disagreements among people about how to understand and implement science. The present study is an ongoing data collection (current n=387, 80% Caucasian, 75% female, recruited from a university subject pool) which examines how interpersonal style (problems, sensitivities) is related to covid related stressors. A published measure of COVID-19-related stressors includes scales for concerns about catching the virus (danger), xenophobia, resource scarcity, and anxiety related reactions (contamination fears, traumatic stress, checking behavior). Preliminary analyses indicate a small but significant correlation with interpersonal problems, with most COVID-19-related stressors associated with warm problems, but xenophobia related to cold-dominant problems. Concerns about catching the virus were associated with being bothered by domineering others, while xenophobia was related to being bothered by friendly-submissive others. The study also includes an EMA component (20 social interactions, part of a larger study on interpersonal processes), where participants endorse whether experienced a disagreement with someone about facts related to COVID-19 risk or appropriate safety measures. These items had a low endorsement rate (in spring 2021 data), likely due to most endorsing living at home with family (61%) who likely share their views. However, endorsement of these disagreements was related to increased negative emotions and interpersonal impairments. We plan to evaluate differences in the spring 2021 data (during virtual learning and limited outside contact) and the fall 2021 data (in-person learning and likely a higher percentage of participants living outside of the home) to examine how interpersonal conflict related to COVID-19 has changed over time. Thus, our cross-sectional data examines how broad patterns of interpersonal problems relate to covid-19 stressors. Our EMA data aims to capture a more nuanced and temporally-dynamic pattern of how covid stressors and daily life covid related conflict impact a person’s emotions and interpersonal processes in their daily life.
Michael J. Roche, PhD
Sydney Neil, BS
Katie C. Lewis, PhD
Presentation 3 Title: Psychiatric Symptoms and Negative Emotions Among COVID “Long Haulers”
Presentation 3 Abstract: In addition to the immediate and sometimes long-term physical impact of COVID19, an increasing body of evidence suggests that COVID19 is a multidimensional stressor that also has significant and potentially long-term psychological consequences (Gueber, et al., 2020; Pfefferbaum & North, 2020). Less studied have been negative emotions such as shame and guilt and how they are associated with having contracted COVID19. Anecdotal summaries suggest that guilt and shame are common emotions experienced by those who have had COVID19 (Cavalera, 2020; Haller et al., 2020). Many COVID patients have reported guilt of not realizing they had the virus and possibly exposing it to others as well as shame associated with inferiority, weakness, and social rejection. The current study is a collaborative project between the Division of Pulmonology and the Department of Psychiatry at a large regional hospital. Patients presenting at a post-COVID care clinic at the Division of Pulmonology for persistent symptoms related to the virus were invited to participate in this IRB-approved study. In addition to assessing pulmonary problems, patients were assessed for psychiatric symptoms (e.g. depression, anxiety, PTSD, functional status) and negative self-conscious emotions (e.g. shame and guilt). We aim to present descriptive data on the physical, psychiatric, and emotional symptoms experienced by this patient population. Further, we hypothesize that patients who required hospitalization, admission in an ICU, being mechanically ventilated during hospitalization and/or requiring supplemental oxygen would also report more severe psychiatric symptoms and emotional distress characterized by shame and guilt. We also hypothesize that patients classified as “long haulers” (operationalized as having ongoing dyspnea and cough) would be associated with more severe psychiatric symptoms and feelings of shame and guilt. Results will be discussed with implications for assessing and treating patients with psychiatric and emotional distress associated with having been diagnosed with COVID19.
Mark R. Lukowitsky, PhD
Presentation 4 Title: Assessment Psychology Takes on COVID-19
Presentation 4 Abstract: Psychologists have contributed to the greater good during the COVID-19 pandemic. Sometimes in innovative ways. This is the story of one assessment psychologist’s journey in pandemic-response. The skill set of and proficiency in assessment psychology includes “forensic, neuropsychological, and psycho-educational applications” as well as “differential diagnosis, treatment planning, and the measurement of treatment effectiveness” (APA, Division 12 Mission Statement; https://apadiv12secix.com/). This and the way of thinking requisite to assessment psychology and the scientist-practitioner (Shakow, 1942) model provided a platform for assuming a unique role in pandemic response. The mission of our COVID-19 defense program was to safeguard the health and safety of employees and contribute to continuity of operations at the United States’ largest National Laboratory. Along with performing traditional clinical psychological services in a multi-disciplinary occupational health team, I was tapped to serve variously as coordinator of a large-scale COVID-19 testing program, facilitate team building, assist in adding antibody testing and vaccine administration to our suite of services, design and perform quality data analytics, provide ongoing management consultation, and develop scientific publications on the enterprises. Expertise in psychometrics and in evaluating scientific research can translate to domains such as our pandemic response program. Interpersonal attunement, group psychological principles, and the ability to flexibly communicate psychodynamically-informed inferences about people behaving under stress were essential. The skills of an assessment psychologist can inform evaluation of clinometric / statistical results of laboratory tests, the design of quality improvement studies, consulting on public health messaging, providing in-person and large group virtual education on coping with the pandemic, and rapid evaluation of emerging public health and infectious disease research on COVID-19, while also doing traditional clinical psychology.
Mark H. Waugh, PhD, ABPP