Harriet Okatch, Franklin & Marshall College – Factors Associated With Perceived Stress During the COVID-19 Pandemic

On Franklin and Marshall College Week:  Everyone is stressed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Harriet Okatch, assistant professor in the department of biology, examines our stress levels.

Harriet Okatch is an Assistant Professor of Public Health at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, PA. With a PhD in Analytical Chemistry and a Masters in Public Health, her research focuses on environmental health especially lead poisoning prevention and the identification of optimal conditions for iron fortification to address pediatric anemia. Her research interests have expanded to explore the impacts of COVID-19 both to Lancaster residents and to healthcare providers nationwide.

Factors Associated With Perceived Stress During the COVID-19 Pandemic


Because the disruptions caused by the pandemic have been widespread and far reaching, and because pandemics are generally described as stressful, we were interested in evaluating factors associated with elevated stress levels.

We assessed stress using the abbreviated Perceived Stress Scale, a scale that aims to ascertain to what extent individuals perceived events in the last month as stressful.  We also collected information on demographic characteristics and asked questions about six COVID-19 themes; knowledge, seriousness, illness severity, job loss, observing preventive measures and having a loved one diagnosed with, or dying from COVID-19.

We identified three COVID-19 themes that are associated with higher levels of perceived stress. Individuals who thought the pandemic was serious, and those who perceived that a COVID-19 diagnosis would lead to severe illness were more likely to report higher levels of stress. Likewise, individuals who reported job loss any time after the onset of the pandemic were more likely to report higher levels of stress.

Additionally, individuals greater or equal to 65 years of age, or who identified as male, or of Caucasian race reported lower perceived stress levels. Married individuals or those living with a partner, and individuals with more friends reported lower stress.

These findings can guide the design of appropriate mental health interventions.



This project is funded by United Way of Lancaster and F&M’s Center for Sustained Engagement with Lancaster (CSEwL is funded by a generous grant awarded to F&M College by the Endeavor Foundation).

This report is part of a larger project in collaboration with Dr. Jessica Cox, Dr. Jennifer Meyer, Dr. Harriet Okatch, and Dr. Wei-Ting Yen. We also express our gratitude to our research consultants, Amer Al Fayadh and Bruno Daniel Gonzalez Cervera, for recruiting participants and facilitating phone interviews with multilingual respondents, and to Berwood Yost and Franklin and Marshall College’s Center for Opinion Research for administrating the survey.

Finally, we are grateful for all the research participants who completed the survey; we appreciate them sharing their time and experiences with us.

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