What level of stress is normal during a global pandemic?

Nadine M. Melhem, PhD, MPH

The year 2020 has been difficult for most people in the United States. The stressors have been both universal and personal, yet heartbreaking and confusing. The COVID-19 global pandemic, the especially high mortality rate in the US, economic losses and individual everyday stressors could affect people’s mental health. No matter how people experience stress, it has been persistent and at unprecedented levels this year. Amid this mental health turmoil, helpers have emerged, including researchers.

To understand how best to help people who are experiencing high levels of stress and mental health problems, researchers must first be able to define and characterize them. What level of stress is normal during a global pandemic? Nadine M. Melhem, PhD, MPH, associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, studies stress responses.

“From previous studies, we know that natural and human-made disasters are associated with


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