Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Stacey McElroy-Heltzel, University of Iowa assistant professor of counseling psychology and researcher in the field of psychology, has garnered recognition for her work on the impact of COVID-19 on mental health. Her article titled "Resource loss and mental health during COVID-19: Psychosocial protective factors among US older adults and those with chronic disease," published in the International Journal of Psychology, has been listed among the top 10 most-cited papers from January 1, 2022 through December 31, 2023.

McElroy-Heltzel's research delves into the intricate relationship between resource loss and mental health outcomes during the COVID-19 pandemic, with a particular focus on vulnerable populations such as older adults and individuals with chronic diseases. In the wake of unprecedented challenges posed by the pandemic, understanding the psychosocial protective factors that mitigate adverse mental health effects is of paramount importance.

“During the pandemic, the prevailing narrative was that we were a nation experiencing multiple crises, including a mental health crisis. While that was true in many ways, I think it's important that that's not the only narrative out there,” McElroy-Heltzel says. “We have a tendency to over pathologize normal responses to stressful events, and that's not a good message to send. It’s normal and appropriate to experience distress when bad things happen. While some people will develop significant mental health symptoms, many people experience both stress and resilience by drawing upon social support or having an optimistic outlook. It’s possible to recognize that while things are difficult at the moment, there is hope that things will get better.” 

The study conducted by McElroy-Heltzel and her team sheds light on the resilience exhibited by certain segments of the population amidst adversity. By examining factors such as social support, coping strategies, and access to essential resources, the research elucidates some protective factors that allow individuals to maintain psychological well-being in the face of resource constraints and heightened stressors.

The recognition of McElroy-Heltzel's work as one of the top 10 most-cited papers underscores its significance and impact within the scientific community. Her findings not only contribute to the academic discourse on mental health resilience but also have practical implications for policymakers, health care professionals, and community stakeholders striving to support vulnerable populations during public health crises.

In an era characterized by unprecedented global challenges, McElroy-Heltzel's research serves as a positive outlook, offering insights into the resilience of human spirit and the potential for collective action to foster positive mental health outcomes amidst adversity. As the world continues to navigate the complexities of the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath, the lessons gleaned from McElroy-Heltzel's work remain invaluable in shaping effective interventions and strategies to promote mental well-being for all.

“Many people find it difficult to reach out for social support during stressful times, especially if we believe everyone around us is distressed. We may fear being a burden. Yet, research has indicated that social support is one of the most consistent and robust correlates of psychological health. Therefore, we want to acknowledge that while many people are struggling, through connection, we can build resilience,” McElroy-Heltzel says. “Our findings support this idea. In this article, we were able to show how things like social support, resilience, and optimism mitigated some of the impacts of the pandemic related to factors on peoples’ mental distress, even for vulnerable populations.”

For McElroy-Heltzel, this recognition serves as a testament to the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration and rigorous scientific inquiry in addressing pressing societal issues. Moving forward, she remains committed to advancing research that not only informs policy and practice but also empowers individuals and communities to thrive in the face of adversity.