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Generalized Anxiety and Major Depressive Symptoms of General Public in South Korea during the Early COVID-19 Pandemic

Kye S. Kim1, Peter M. Kang1, He Sook N. Kim2,*

1 Department of Medicine, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA 02215, USA
2 Department of Child & Family Studies, Yonsei University, Seoul, 03722, South Korea

* Corresponding Author: He Sook N. Kim. Email: email

International Journal of Mental Health Promotion 2021, 23(3), 303-317.


The extent of viral spread and strategies in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic have been different in each country. There are overall increased mental health concerns in many countries but it is unclear what the general public individuals who do not have heighten vulnerability to stressors for existing mental diseases or significant physical illnesses were experiencing during the pandemic. We evaluated the stressors and mental health of general public in South Korea that has a relatively low confirmed cases and deaths. Responses on the on-line survey questions were used to assess the mental and physical symptoms in association with individuals’ reported stressors. Individuals with the symptoms of the generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) were reported in 58.9%, and major depression (MD) in 23.2%, mostly in minimal to mild degrees, cut-off scores of 5 and 10, respectively by the validated screening tools, GAD-7 and PHQ-9. Both GAD and MD symptoms were in 21.5% of the respondents. The total number of stress had significant association with the scores of GAD-7, PHQ-9, physical symptoms, sleep difficulties and resilience (p < 0.01). GAD scores were also associated with sleep difficulties (p < 0.01) and raising young children (p < 0.05). MD scores were associated with sleep difficulties, job-dissatisfaction, and educational level (p < 0.05). The limitations of the study include small sample size, usage of smartphone or email, potential under-reporting by stigma in the socio-cultural context and evolving nature of pandemic. We conclude that keeping careful watch for mental symptoms, stressors, sleep difficulties and other physical symptoms are important even for the individuals without previous mental illnesses during the pandemic era.


Cite This Article

Kim, K. S., Kang, P. M., Sook, H. (2021). Generalized Anxiety and Major Depressive Symptoms of General Public in South Korea during the Early COVID-19 Pandemic. International Journal of Mental Health Promotion, 23(3), 303–317.


cc This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License , which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
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