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Understanding the Psychosocial Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Latinx Emerging Adults


The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) which was declared a global pandemic on March 11, 2020, has had devastating consequences on the mental health of people worldwide (World Health Organization, 2020). Latinx and other ethnic minorities in the United States are experiencing substantial distress secondary to the COVID-19 pandemic (Garcini et al., 2020). Notably, Latinx have been shown to be over-represented in COVID- 19 cases and deaths (Center for Disease Control, 2022). Among the possible reasons for these disparities are a variety of contextual factors (e.g., employment in essential work that cannot be performed remotely); many Latinx often live in crowded spaces that limit social distancing; and some have difficulty obtaining health insurance and medical services due to financial difficulties or immigration status (Hayes-Bautista, 2020). These disparities as well as pandemic-related stressors have led to concerns about the consequences of this disaster on the mental health of vulnerable Latinx (Garcini et al., 2020).

There is also growing evidence about the psychosocial impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on younger populations from racial and ethnic minority groups (Penner et al., 2021; Villatoro et al., 2022). Emerging adulthood is a developmental stage (ages 18-29 years old) that is characterized by identity exploration, instability, self-focus, feeling “in between” and having a sense of possibilities (Arnett, 2015). According to recent studies, Latinx emerging adults have experienced significant socio-emotional consequences as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic (Goodman et al, 2020). The current pandemic has affected the developmental trajectory of emerging adults, particularly in terms of education, employment opportunities, and short-and long-term wellbeing (Halliburton et al., 2021). Latinx young adults may now be contending with other responsibilities and potential disaster-related stressors that may compound their risk for mental health problems. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, research documented that Latinx emerging adults experienced acculturative stress and served as language and cultural brokers for their immigrant families, including mediating health-related information (Sim et al., 2010; Villanueva & Buriel, 2010). In addition, this population has been shown to navigate high levels of family obligations and responsibilities associated with the collectivistic family expectations (Stein et al., 2019). Often, Latinx emerging adults are first-generation university students and must negotiate a variety of contextual roles including completing academic tasks and balancing financial expenses. In light of this, it is imperative to understand more about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Latinx emerging adults in order to better meet their specific needs, identify protective factors, and implement culturally sensitive interventions to prevent psychological maladjustment.

The aim of this study was to explore the psychosocial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Latinx emerging adults (N = 31; ages 18-29) in California and Florida through online focus group interviews. A qualitative constructivist grounded theory approach was used in an effort to develop empirical knowledge, as research on the psychosocial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic was limited when this study began. This approach served to capture the richness of the experiences and context of participants by allowing analytic codes and categories to drive theory development (Charmaz, 2014). This study addressed the following research questions:

1. What is the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the psychosocial functioning of Latinx emerging adults residing in California and Florida?2. How are Latinx emerging adults negotiating their identities, roles, and cultural values as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic?

Participants in California and Florida were recruited through flyers posted on social media, word of mouth, and some were recruited from a prior multi-site study looking at natural disasters. Data was collected with participants in California and Florida in order to obtain diversity with regards to context of Latinx and varied experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic. In total, seven focus groups were held and participants attended a virtual focus group with other Latinx emerging adults from their state. The focus groups were transcribed verbatim and coded using constructivist grounded theory (Charmaz, 2001). The qualitative process facilitated the in-depth exploration and understanding of an understudied phenomenon. It also took into consideration how cultural factors, values, and beliefs, could influence the experiences of Latinx emerging adults during the pandemic.

There were six themes identified from the data concerning the impact of the pandemic on Latinx Emerging adults. These themes centered around systemic and environmental factors, pandemic-related communication, career and academic disruptions, navigating family factors, mental health experiences, and the adaptation process. From these themes, two theoretical models were constructed to explain how the pandemic has impacted the psychological wellbeing and adjustment of Latinx emerging adults California and Florida. Additionally, familismo and multigenerational values were found as protective factors for Latinx emerging adults.

The high levels of psychological distress reported in this sample reflect emerging research showing that young adults have experienced an alarming increase in adverse mental health outcomes during the COVID-19 pandemic (Conrad et al., 2021, Villatoro et al., 2022). The findings are also consistent with a qualitative study that found that Latinx college students reported fear and disillusionment about the future as a result of undergoing the COVID-19 pandemic and being exposed to social injustices (Morgan & Zetzer, 2022).The study has important implications for helping to advance science in a variety of areas such as increasing knowledge regarding the consequences of pandemics on mental health and cultural considerations that may influence disaster recovery. Examples of these cultural considerations include multigenerational values, heightened responsibilities and mediating pandemic information. This research is needed to inform public health efforts to support emerging adults as they navigate changes brought about by the pandemic and to prevent adverse psychosocial outcomes for this population. Results may inform universities and mental health efforts on how to increase support and resources for Latinx emerging adults in order to address the psychological difficulties resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.

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