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Mitigating the Economic and Mental Health Impacts of COVID-19
Last registered on October 30, 2020

Pre-Trial

Trial Information
General Information
Title
Mitigating the Economic and Mental Health Impacts of COVID-19
RCT ID
AEARCTR-0006528
Initial registration date
October 29, 2020
Last updated
October 30, 2020 9:48 AM EDT
Location(s)

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Primary Investigator
Affiliation
Harvard University
Other Primary Investigator(s)
PI Affiliation
J-PAL South Asia
PI Affiliation
J-PAL South Asia
PI Affiliation
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
PI Affiliation
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
PI Affiliation
Harvard University
Additional Trial Information
Status
In development
Start date
2020-11-09
End date
2021-05-15
Secondary IDs
Abstract
This study will conduct a randomized controlled trial (RCT) with low-income adults in Tamil Nadu to answer two sets of questions. First, can inexpensive and scalable interventions involving phone-delivered psychological first aid (PFA) and temporary cash support boost mental health and economic resilience among low-income households in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic? Second, do these interventions improve people’s capacity to seek out and retain useful information, and thus to engage in protective health behaviors? Third, do these interventions make people prosocial (i.e. more generous with others, and less prejudiced towards minority groups)? Our participants will be randomized into three groups: (i) a control group, (ii) a cash transfer treatment group which receives a one-time transfer of approximately 5,000 Rs, and (iii) a PFA treatment group which receives repeated psychosocial support over the phone from trained lay providers.
External Link(s)
Registration Citation
Citation
Carney, Kevin et al. 2020. "Mitigating the Economic and Mental Health Impacts of COVID-19." AEA RCT Registry. October 30. https://doi.org/10.1257/rct.6528-1.0.
Experimental Details
Interventions
Intervention(s)
We evaluate two distinct interventions:

Psychosocial support treatment. The psychosocial support treatment consists of a two-layered psychological first aid (PFA) intervention. We have adapted a well-established PFA manual developed by the WHO to the specific mental health challenges associated with COVID-19 in India, in partnership with mental health experts from a highly reputed mental health organization in Chennai (SCARF India). PFA is designed to be administered by non-specialists in order to help others in distress. It consists of asking questions about a person’s situation, providing basic support in brainstorming solutions to problems, reinforcing coping abilities, linking them to available social support, and identifying severe cases. These severe cases could include facing violence or abuse, thoughts about harming themselves or others, acute distress, or the inability to do day-to-day tasks due to stress, worry or low mood. In these severe cases, we will refer participants to the second layer of treatment, staffed by mental health professionals at SCARF.

Cash transfer. We will offer unconditional cash transfers of approximately 5,000 Rs, which is equivalent to about two weeks of the average salary in this context. The cash transfers will be delivered electronically, providing rapid support that can be administered remotely.
Intervention Start Date
2020-11-17
Intervention End Date
2021-04-30
Primary Outcomes
Primary Outcomes (end points)
Our primary outcomes belong to the following categories: (i) mental well-being, (ii) economic conditions, (iii) demand for information, (iv) memory and attention, and (v) prosociality.
Primary Outcomes (explanation)
We will measure mental well-being using three standard questionnaires from psychology: the nine-item Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9), the Generalized Anxiety Disorder two-item assessment (GAD-2), and the four-item Perceived Stress Scale (PSS-4). Our measures of economic conditions include survey questions on food security, ability to pay rent, worries about finances, outstanding debt and healthcare access. To measure demand for information, we elicit choices between information that varies in usefulness and affect (positive or negative). To measure memory and attention, we seed information at the midline and measure recall at the endline. This includes information related to COVID, as well as the set of news articles used in the demand for information module. Our measures of prosociality include choices of how to allocate money and effort, with variation in who benefits (eg. self vs. others; ingroup vs. outgroup).
Secondary Outcomes
Secondary Outcomes (end points)
We will measure secondary outcomes related to satisfaction with government response, intimate partner violence, and beliefs and attitudes about mental health treatment.
Secondary Outcomes (explanation)
Our government satisfaction survey questions will include an assessment of response to the COVID-19 crisis and trust in government when dealing with future crises. The intimate partner violence module asks participants about previous instances of violence in their household. The mental health treatment questions measure beliefs regarding the usefulness of mental health care, including a choice between providing someone else with cash or psychological first aid.
Experimental Design
Experimental Design
The study consists of a randomized controlled trial with three arms: (i) a control group, (ii) a treatment group which receives a one-time cash transfer of approximately 5,000 Rs, and (iii) a treatment group which receives repeated psychosocial support over the phone from trained lay people. Our target size for the entire study is 4,135 participants, with 1,500 in the control group, 1,500 in the PFA group, and 1,135 in the cash transfer group.

We will conduct four surveys with each participant: (i) a demographic survey, (ii) a baseline survey, (iii) a midline survey, and (iv) an endline survey. We will use measurements from our demographic survey to stratify our randomization. In the two weeks following the baseline survey, participants will receive their treatment (a cash transfer, or an initial PFA conversation), if they are not in the control group. In the one to two weeks after this treatment, we will schedule the midline survey with each participant. Following the midline survey, each participant in the PFA group will receive two more PFA conversations in the two to three weeks afterwards. The endline surveys will be scheduled approximately three to four weeks after the midline survey.
Experimental Design Details
Not available
Randomization Method
We pre-randomize by computer using Stata’s pseudo-random number generator.
Randomization Unit
Individual
Was the treatment clustered?
No
Experiment Characteristics
Sample size: planned number of clusters
N/A
Sample size: planned number of observations
4,135
Sample size (or number of clusters) by treatment arms
1,500 individuals in the control group, 1,500 individuals in the PFA group, and 1,135 individuals in the cash transfer group.
Minimum detectable effect size for main outcomes (accounting for sample design and clustering)
Because our cash treatment arm is more expensive than the PFA treatment arm, our cash treatment group is smaller than the PFA group and the control group. Our power calculations require 1,500 people in the control group and PFA group and 1,135 people in the cash group. This allows us to detect an effect size of at least 0.110σ when comparing the cash treatment to the other two groups (at the 5% significance level with 80% power, assuming equal variance in treatment and control groups). When comparing the PFA group and the control group, our minimum detectable effect decreases to 0.102σ (again at the 5% significance level with 80% power, assuming equal variance in treatment and control groups).
IRB
INSTITUTIONAL REVIEW BOARDS (IRBs)
IRB Name
MIT Committee on the Use of Humans as Experimental Subjects
IRB Approval Date
2020-06-18
IRB Approval Number
2005000159