Global health crises have a significant impact on the way we perceive our world and live our everyday lives and the outbreak of the coronavirus disease in 2019 (COVID-19) is no exception. The patterns of transmission as well as the rate of contagion of any pandemic disease require safety measures to be put into place to contain the spread of the virus. In the case of COVID-19, Americans were required to socially distance themselves from one another by “refraining from doing what is inherently human, which is to find solace in the company of others” (Frontiers, 2020). During such critical and unpredictable times, the role of the mass media in the lives of individuals both socially and societally is extremely important. The information that is portrayed in the media has an enormous role in shaping the way that individuals experience the world and themselves. Media can target and affect individuals in America who are in different age groups as well as socioeconomic statuses. Poor public health communication during a pandemic has a negative effect on the psychological well-being of Americans aged 70+ who live at the poverty line. This fact is accompanied by a growing volume of research that looks at the growing technological transformations (e.g., radio, movies, television, the internet, cellular devices, tablets) and attempts to map the impacts that public health communication has on how these individuals perceive themselves both as individuals and citizens of their society. Individuals who are 70+ and live at the poverty line have a higher susceptibility to experiencing psychosocial deficits. These individuals may not have access to the internet, social media or capabilities to do research and their only media source may be the news they see on the television. The media does not always portray the facts and if the only information they are receiving is through this outlet, this could negatively affect their psychosocial well-being.
During any healthcare crisis, individuals young and old as well as those who have preexisting conditions are usually the most vulnerable. Specifically, those aged 70 and older are more severe after an infection and if a preexisting condition exists, death can become more common. With this fact, the elderly population can accumulate stress and fear which negatively affects their psychosocial well-being. There should be strategic implementation to the way in which health communication is delivered. Health communication should consider how culture values, life circumstance, and individuals’ perspective on risk affects their psychosocial well-being during a pandemic. Vaughan & Tinker (2009), examine communication challenges and how “sociocultural, economic, psychological, and health factors can jeopardize or facilitate public health interventions that require a cooperative public.” If these factors are ignored, there is a risk of communication disparity for the vulnerable populations. They find that responses to pandemic risk information is influenced by existing psychological, social, cultural, health, and socioeconomic factors (Vaughan & Tinker, 2009). This can therefore affect how these individuals interpret health risk communications and whether or not they will be able to respond in a manner that is timely enough to help save their lives. Pfefferbaum & North (2020) also found a correlation to mental health issues in Americans in vulnerable populations and pandemics such as the recent COVID-19. They found that these emergencies may affect the well-being, health, and safety of individuals and communities which will result in a range of emotional reactions. Meng, et al. (2020) carried out a survey on the psychological status of the elderly in China during the period of “COVID-19” and targeted seniors in different age groups. They found that individuals 70 and older have a more significant emotional reaction of depression and anxiety than those aged younger during a pandemic. Banerjee (2020), also focused research on the mental health-care vulnerabilities of the elderly and their needs. This research identifies that although pandemics are a global health problem, sections of society can be at an increased risk for long-term psychosocial effects. Individuals 70+ are vulnerable to the virus and its psychological effects and Banerjee not only identifies these effects but implements ways in which the community should pay increased attention to the mental health of the senior citizens. The elderly population is at risk for psychosocial deficits during a pandemic and when combined with the fact that they live at the poverty line, their risk for psychosocial disparities increases due to the lack of proper education and research. The research presented by Quinn (2008) wrestles with the challenge of communication during a crisis with special populations during a pandemic. She specifically applies this research to the H5N1 flu but specifies that this research will apply to pandemics to come. The research identifies ways in which minority communities and government agencies can work to effectively communicate during a pandemic in a way that strengthens the trust of the community during these times. Poor communities in America have a limited capacity to health systems, and short on access to labs, infrastructure and trained epidemiologists. Lastly, Oppenheim & Yamey (2017) explain how pandemics impact the health of the poor and in which ways the poor can be protected from the psychosocial burdens of living in a poor community with less access than surrounding areas.
What makes this approach new and important is the recent events that have occured with the COVID-19 pandemic and its psychosocial effects on the elderly population in lower socioeconomic regions of America.