Effect of Learned Helplessness on Stress-Based Symptoms of Asian Young Adults in the U.S. during COVID-19

Principal Investigator: Cindy H. Liu

Authors: Abdelrahman ElTohamy, Sunah Hyun, Ga Tin Finneas Wong, Hyeouk “Chris” Hahm, Cindy H. Liu
Lay Abstract

The COVID-19 pandemic has been exceptionally difficult for racial minorities in the U.S. They not only face an increased number of COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations, and deaths but also continue to struggle with racial discrimination. Facing racism can increase the person’s chances of developing several physical and mental health conditions. One of our recent studies shows that, among Asian Americans, there is an association between COVID-19 related discrimination and posttraumatic stress symptoms. Learned helplessness is a phenomenon that can develop due to repetitive failure or negative experiences. It refers to an individual’s belief that regardless of effort, the bad circumstances he or she is in cannot be improved. We are looking to study how learned helplessness during the COVID-19 pandemic is related to racial trauma symptoms in Asian American young adults. This will improve our understanding of the experiences of racial minorities in the U.S. and can inform the therapeutic practice and supports available for them.

Scientific Abstract

For racial minorities in the U.S., the COVID-19 pandemic has been especially burdensome. In addition to the disproportionate rates of COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations, and deaths, racial minorities continue to face racism. Racial discrimination is linked to increased physical and mental health outcomes, with our own data demonstrating COVID-19 related racial discrimination to be associated with PTSD symptoms among Asian Americans. A question is how individual responses to adversity such as learned helplessness (the perception that negative circumstances are unsurmountable regardless of effort) either mitigate or promote risk for later stress-based experiences. Our study draws from 129 Asian or Asian American U.S. young adults from the COVID-19 Adult Resilience Experience Study (CARES) who have completed three waves of data collection throughout the pandemic. We plan to examine learned helplessness as a moderator of racial trauma symptoms in racial minority young adults. A better understanding of psychological responses to the COVID-19 pandemic growth will illuminate the experiences of racial minorities and inform therapeutic practice and supports for racial minorities in the U.S

Clinical Implications
Understanding the effects different psychological responses to adversity have on the mental health of racial minority young adults can help guide tailored therapeutic practice and supports available to them.

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