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The University of Houston scientist creates an app to address Covid-19-related mental health disparities

Jessica Yang

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University of Houston Newsroom

As a response to the health inequality that has been magnified during the pandemic, a researcher at the University of Houston is developing a mobile app to address Covid-19-related health disparities in racial and ethnic populations.

For this innovation, Michael Zvolensky, Distinguished University Professor of psychology at the University of Houston, has been awarded a $2.7 million fund by the National Institute of Mental Health. This fund will be used to further develop and test EASE (Easing Anxiety Sensitivity for Everyone), the name of the app.

The app provides real-time solutions to participants' anxiety attacks using its thousands of pre-programmed suggestions. For example, when users tell the app that they are stressed, it will display a suggestion on how to deal with the feeling. This includes telling users to ground themselves, such as by taking deep breaths or by slowly becoming aware of the surroundings to reregulate the stress.

A randomized clinical trial of the app will include 800 participants. This comprises 200 Black, 200 Latinx, 200 American Indian and 200 white. Zvolensky collaborated with Michael Businelle and programmers from the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center to develop the app.

There is currently a health inequality phenomenon affecting Blacks, Latinxs, and American Indians (BLAI) relative to non-Latinx white (NLW) individuals concerning Covid-19 exposure, hospitalization, and death. BLAI populations significantly have lower behavioral health access in the pandemic, which results in heightened adverse mental health outcomes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that American Indians' Covid-19 hospitalization rates are about 5.3 times white people. Meanwhile, for the Black and Latinx population, the rates are 4.7 times compared to white people.

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