New paper out: Predicting Psychological Distress During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Do Socioeconomic Factors Matter?

portrait of researcher Nan Bakkeli

Nan Zou Bakkeli at PANSOC and Consumption Reserch Norway has just published a new paper in the journal “Social Science Computer Review”. You can read it here: Predicting Psychological Distress During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Do Socioeconomic Factors Matter? – Nan Zou Bakkeli, 2022 (

The COVID-19 pandemic has posed considerable challenges to people’s mental health, and the prevalence of anxiety and depression increased substantially during the pandemic. Early detection of potential depression is crucial for timely preventive interventions; therefore, there is a need for depression prediction.

This study was based on survey data collected from 5001 Norwegians (3001 in 2020 and 2000 in 2021). Machine learning models were used to predict depression risk and to select models with the best performance for each pandemic phase. Probability thresholds were chosen based on cost-sensitive analysis, and measures such as accuracy (ACC) and the area under the receiver operating curve (AUC) were used to evaluate the models’ performance.

The study found that decision tree models and regularised regressions had the best performance in both 2020 and 2021. For the 2020 predictions, the highest accuracies were obtained using gradient boosting machines (ACC = 0.72, AUC = 0.74) and random forest algorithm (ACC = 0.71, AUC = 0.75). For the 2021 predictions, the random forest (ACC = 0.76, AUC = 0.78) and elastic net regularisation (ACC = 0.76, AUC = 0.78) exhibited the best performances. Highly ranked predictors of depression that remained stable over time were self-perceived exposure risks, income, compliance with nonpharmaceutical interventions, frequency of being outdoors, contact with family and friends and work–life conflict. While epidemiological factors (having COVID symptoms or having close contact with the infected) influenced the level of psychological distress to a larger extent in the relatively early stage of pandemic, the importance of socioeconomic factors (gender, age, household type and employment status) increased substantially in the later stage.Conclusion: Machine learning models consisting of demographic, socioeconomic, behavioural and epidemiological features can be used for fast ‘first-hand’ screening to diagnose mental health problems. The models may be helpful for stakeholders and healthcare providers to provide early diagnosis and intervention, as well as to provide insight into forecasting which social groups are more vulnerable to mental illness in which social settings.

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