New Study First to Use Pandemic Stress Index to Document the Effects of COVID-19 on Latinx Sexual Minority Men

Latinx sexual minority men are at the intersection of two communities disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. In a new University of Miami Miller School of Medicine-led study, public health experts utilized the Pandemic Stress Index, in which Latinx sexual minority men reported their behavioral, psychosocial, and medical experiences during COVID-19, as well as their current immigration statuses.

The study—published online in the Annals of LGBTQ Public and Population Health in January 2021is the first to assess Latinx sexual minority men’s responses to the Pandemic Stress Index and the first to compare their responses by recent, established, and U.S. born immigration statuses.

Researchers found that Latinx sexual minority men experienced anxieties, depression, sleep difficulties, substance use, loss of income or employment, and fears about how others in their lives were managing during COVID-19.

Depending on their immigration status, each were also affected differently throughout the pandemic. Experts suggest that the findings should be accounted for as COVID-19 services and public health messages are developed and disseminated to communities hardest hit by the pandemic.

“We’re finding that the experiences that Latinx sexual minority men during COVID-19 really differ among different subgroups, specifically by immigration status, and that’s important for informing our public health efforts related to COVID-19,” said study lead author Audrey Harkness, Ph.D., research assistant professor at the Miller School of Medicine’s Department of Public Health Sciences.

After the pandemic struck the U.S., UM health experts, public health scientists and mental health professionals developed the Pandemic Stress Indexa three-item inventory that assesses behavior changes and stressors that may have occurred in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

“COVID-19 has really changed the way in which we have to look at sexual health among those who may be living with or at risk for HIV,” said study senior author Steve Safren, Ph.D., University of Miami’s director of the Center for HIV and Research in Mental Health and the Health Promotion and Care Research Program in the Department of Psychology. “Dr. Harkness quickly amassed the team to develop this important tool, and already people from all over the country and from other countries as well are using it to help guide prevention and treatment research.”

COVID-19 is Disproportionately Affecting Latinx Sexual Minority Men

Study participants who provided responses to the index included 290 Latinx sexual minority menin South Florida who were between the ages of 18 to 60. Data were collected between Feb. 18, 2020 and Aug. 26, 2020.

Latinx sexual minority men reported the following:

  • Over a quarter have not worked during COVID-19 and over half reported financial loss
  • Approximately 8 percent reported being diagnosed with COVID-19, with about half tested for COVID-19
  • Approximately 75 percent feared getting and over half feared transmitting COVID-19
  • Over half reported anxiety, depression, loneliness, and sleep problems and over a quarter reported increased alcohol and substance in the context of COVID-19.
  • 6 percent who changed their sexual activity levels, most decreasing.
  • A minority of participants—32.4 percent and 20.4 percent—reported receiving emotional or financial support
  • Over 40 percent reported feeling they contributed to the greater good by engaging in social distancing and COVID-19 preventive behaviors

Impacts also differed across subgroups of participants. For example, Latinx sexual minority men who are established immigrants were 4.52 times more likely to report a COVID-19 diagnosis than those who were born in the U.S. There were also lower odds of practicing social distancing among them compared to those born in the U.S. 

Latinx sexual minority men who are established immigrants, compared to US born participants, also were:

  • Nearly twice as likely to be unclear about what COVID-19 is, how to prevent it, or why social distancing is needed, potentially leading to less social distancing
  • 77 times more likely to change their sexual activity during COVID-19—94% reporting a decrease—compared to those born in the U.S.

The need to develop and implement relevant mental health and social support resources that are useful for Latinx sexual minority men overall and subgroups by immigration status are key as COVID-19 has disproportionately affected this population.

“Carrying this work forward, it would be great to see how we can mitigate gaps in the reach of COVID-19 prevention efforts, while also leveraging unique strengths, such as the overall high altruistic attitudes participants are reporting and develop programs that are tailored to community needs and strengths,” said Dr. Harkness.

Written by Amanda Torres 
Published on January 27, 2021