exterior shot of cancer center
UH Cancer Center

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 Hawaiʻi’s young adults, especially across different racial/ethnic groups.

A research team led by a University of Hawaiʻi Cancer Center researcher has received a $2.01 million grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) to conduct this public impact research examining how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected mental health and tobacco and other substance use among the state’s young adults.

pallav pohkrel headshot
Pallav Pohkrel

Pallav Pokhrel and his team had collected several waves of data on mental health and tobacco, and other substance use from a cohort of more than 2,000 Hawaiʻi young adults prior to the pandemic, through a previous grant supported by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The new NIDA funding will help Pokhrel and his team follow this same cohort during the pandemic, with the purpose of understanding how various aspects of COVID-19, such as loneliness and financial stress, may 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 Hawaiʻi.

“This is an important new project and represents the kind of innovative behavioral cancer prevention research we conduct at the UH Cancer Center,” said Interim Director Joe W. Ramos. “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 Hawaiʻi.”

This research is an example of UH Mānoa’s goal of Excellence in Research: Advancing the Research and Creative Work Enterprise (PDF), one of four goals identified in the 2015–25 Strategic Plan (PDF), updated in December 2020.