News Release

NIH study validates new scale for measuring pandemic-related traumatic stress in children and adults

Peer-Reviewed Publication

Environmental influences on Child Health Outcomes

Courtney Blackwell, PhD


Courtney Blackwell, PhD is an ECHO investigator. 

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Credit: Northwestern University

The Pandemic-related Traumatic Stress Scale (PTSS) can be used to effectively measure stress related to the COVID-19 pandemic and identify children and adults with higher levels of stress who may need additional mental health support, according to a new study funded by the Environmental influences on Child Health Outcomes Program (ECHO) at the National Institutes of Health.

The study included 17,830 children and adults from 47 ECHO Cohort study sites representing all 50 states, Washington, DC, and Puerto Rico. Researchers split the sample into four groups including 1,656 pregnant or postpartum individuals; 11,483 adult caregivers; 1,795 adolescents aged 13 to 21; and 2,896 children aged 3 to 12. Between April 2020 and August 2021, participants or their caregivers completed surveys about their pandemic-related traumatic stress, depressive symptoms, anxiety, general stress, and life satisfaction. On average, caregivers had the highest PTSS scores, followed by adolescents, pregnant or postpartum individuals, and children.

Within these groups, the researchers found additional differences related to age and gender. Adolescents, females, and caregivers of children under 5 had higher PTSS scores on average than younger children, males, and caregivers of children 5 and older, respectively. Higher levels of pandemic-related traumatic stress were associated with greater symptoms of distress and lower life satisfaction.

“The PTSS can be used beyond the immediate COVID-19 pandemic context,” said Courtney Blackwell, PhD, an ECHO Cohort Investigator at Northwestern University. “Unlike previous measures that capture traumatic stress reactions to a single event, the PTSS was developed to evaluate potential traumatic stress reactions to ongoing large-scale threats. In the future, the PTSS could be adapted to evaluate reactions to other acute onset stressors with lengthy durations.”

Dr. Blackwell led this collaborative research published in Psychological Assessment.  

Blackwell, C. et al. Development and Psychometric Validation of the Pandemic-related Traumatic Stress Scale for Children and Adults. Psychological Assessment. DOI: 10.1037/pas0001211.

About ECHO: Launched in 2016, the Environmental influences on Child Health Outcomes (ECHO) Program is a research program in the Office of the Director at the NIH with the mission to enhance the health of children for generations to come. ECHO investigators study the effects of a broad range of early environmental influences on child health and development. For more information, visit

About the NIH: NIH, the nation’s medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information, visit

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