Kauai News

UH Cancer Center Study Examines COVID Effects on Mental Health, Tobacco Use Among Young Adults

Posted January 25, 2022, 8:30 AM HST ·Updated January 24, 5:56 PM

A research team led by a University of Hawai‘i Cancer Center researcher received a $2 million grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse to conduct public research examining how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected mental health and tobacco and other substance use among Hawai‘i’s young adults.

Pallav Pokhrel

Pallav Pokhrel and his team collected several waves of data on mental health and tobacco and other substance use from a cohort of more than 2,000 young adults throughout the state prior to the pandemic through a previous grant supported by the National Cancer Institute. The new National Institute on Drug Abuse funding will help Pokhrel and his team follow this same cohort during the pandemic, with the purpose of understanding how various aspects of COVID, such as loneliness and financial stress, might have affected their mental health and substance use behavior.

“This study will help us understand the social and psychological mechanisms through which the pandemic may differentially affect the mental health and tobacco use of young adults of different racial/ethnic backgrounds,” said Pokhrel.

He added that such information could assist with needs-based development of health promotion, including tobacco use prevention strategies in Hawai‘i.

“This is an important new project and represents the kind of innovative behavioral cancer prevention research we conduct at the UH Cancer Center,” said Joe Ramos, the center’s interim director. “Members of this team are leaders in the field, and I look forward to the outcomes of this work so that we can begin to address any issues they may find here in Hawai‘i.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has contributed to significant increases in depression and anxiety among Americans, especially young adults, according to data collected through the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Surveys. However, very little is known about how the pandemic has affected mental health and tobacco and other substance use behavior of Hawai‘i’s young adults, especially across different racial/ethnic groups.

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