Nearly half of Americans say their mental health has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. And it’s no wonder: Many Americans are out of work, isolated, stuck inside and facing a global pandemic that's been raging for nearly an entire year in the United States.
Mental Illness Was Already Common Before COVID-19
Many Americans faced mental illness before the pandemic, most commonly anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and bipolar disorder. In fact, 1 in 5 Americans experience mental illness, and 1 in 25 adults suffer a severe mental illness, which causes greater disability, such as trouble functioning in a work environment.
New Challenges Cause New Mental Health Problems
COVID-19 has exacerbated these problems as Americans face new challenges. During the height of the pandemic, around March and April 2020, unemployment rates changed to levels unseen since the Great Depression. New data shows that many households are still struggling to acquire sufficient food for their families, pay rent and mortgages. About 29 million adults — 14 percent of all adults in the country — reported that their household sometimes or often didn’t have enough to eat in the last seven days, according to Household Pulse Survey data collected December 2020.
Shelter-in-place or stay-at-home orders, which restrict family members to close quarters for longer periods of time, have compounded the challenges, with more Americans isolated from family and friends. Older people are at particular risk for social isolation because 27% of them live alone. According to the CDC, social isolation was associated with about a 50% increased risk of dementia and other serious medical conditions.
Trouble at Home
Women — especially those with children under the age of 18 — seem to be particularly negatively affected by the pandemic. In fact, 53% of women say their mental health has been negatively affected, compared with 37% of men. Part of the reason is that women are more likely to tend to the health of their families and bear the brunt of housework in the United States. The COVID-19 pandemic has only added to the burden, as many women now also have to handle childcare and homeschooling tasks, in addition to their typical responsibilities, which may include full-time jobs typically performed outside the home.
With everyone at home, family conflict — sometimes escalating to abuse — has increased. Calls to the National Domestic Abuse Hotline were up 12% in April. Domestic abuse in all its forms — physical violence, surveillance, isolation and more — becomes all but inescapable under stay-at-home orders.
Accessing mental healthcare remains a challenge. In 2018 less than half (44%) of Americans under age 65 who reported experiencing a mental illness saw a mental health professional for their problem. Those who do seek treatment often struggle to find in-network or affordable options. Even those with good health insurance and an ability to seek treatment may have trouble getting an appointment because of a nationwide shortage of mental healthcare providers.
Telemedicine is helping bridge the gap by connecting those who need help with their therapist or psychiatrist remotely.
Facing a global pandemic and the mental strains that accompany it, more people will need high-quality mental health support than ever before.