Social isolation and psychological distress during the COVID-19 pandemic: A cross-national analysis

Harris Hyun Soo Kim, Jong Hyun Jung

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

112 Scopus citations


Background and Objectives: The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic resulted in social isolation globally, creating heightened levels of stress and anxiety. This study investigates the link between social isolation and mental wellbeing in later life, and how it varies across countries. Research Design and Methods: We draw on a subset of older adults from Global Behaviors and Perceptions in the COVID-19 Pandemic, a unique global online survey of 13,660 participants from 62 countries. We use mixed-effects models to analyze the data. Results: Social isolation (distancing) significantly predicts poor mental health operationalized as coronavirus-induced distress (p < .01). At the aggregate level, average distress varies positively across countries with higher numbers of coronavirus-related deaths (p < .10) and more fragile state capacity (p < .05), while varying negatively across those with more stringent anticoronavirus policies (p < .05). Finally, we report several cross-level interactions between social isolation and the total number of deaths (p = .025), policy stringency (p = .065), state fragility (p = .061), and globalization index (p = .071). Discussion and Implications: Our study shows that a proper understanding of the impact of COVID-19 on the mental well-being of older adults should consider the moderating role of national context.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)103-113
Number of pages11
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2020. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The Gerontological Society of America. All rights reserved.


  • COVID-19
  • Mental well-being
  • Multilevel analysis
  • National context
  • Social distancing


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