Cancer Center researcher receives NIH funding to examine the effects of COVID on mental health and tobacco use among Hawaiʻi young adults

January 2022

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

Pallav Pokhrel
Pallav Pokhrel

Information collected through the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Surveys suggests that the COVID-19 pandemic has contributed to significant increases in depression and anxiety among Americans, especially young adults; 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.

Pokhrel’s 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 adds 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 UH Cancer Center 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.”

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