New study finds association between COVID-19 testing uptake and mental disorders


New research from one University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Education researcher claims that, without sufficient COVID-19 testing capacity, it is possible that people can experience increased mental distress due to fear and concerns over their COVID-19 status.

According to study lead author Yusen Zhai, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Human Studies and director of the UAB Community Counseling Clinic, COVID-19 testing is an effective yet underutilized way to manage the transmission of COVID-19.

“In March 2022, the Biden administration launched a nationwide Test to Treat Initiative, which aimed to allow Americans to rapidly access needed COVID-19 treatments,” Zhai said. “In principle, the sooner people can get COVID-19 tests when they suspect having exposure or infection, the sooner they can seek COVID-19 treatments—like oral antiviral pills—if tested positive.”

Zhai adds that, despite the federal government’s efforts to expand the COVID-19 testing capacity, Americans still experience difficulties accessing COVID-19 tests throughout the pandemic.

“Free at-home COVID-19 home-testing kits (delivered by the federal government) run out quickly and never meet the ongoing need for testing among millions of Americans,” Zhai said. “The federal free COVID-19 test program has been suspended due to a lack of funding. In other words, the U.S. federal government has no longer sustained COVID-19 testing capacity without sufficient funding from Congress.”

Fear and uncertainty fueled by COVID-19 among the public and health care workers have worsened mental health outcomes, overwhelming and exhausting the health care system, according to Zhai.

“People who suspect having COVID-19 exposure or infection may have excessive worries and fear of COVID-19 infections, which leads to mental distress such as depression, anxiety and suicide,” he said. “Therefore, it is critical to empirically assess the role of the use of COVID-19 tests in mental health among Americans.”

The study, published in BJPsych Open, examined the associations between COVID-19 testing uptake (i.e., the use of COVID-19 tests) and certain mental disorders.

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