Mental Health Conditions Increase at Disconcerting Rates During Pandemic
Stress levels among Americans have risen dramatically in the months since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Not only are people isolated from loved ones and fearful of getting sick, but many are trying to adapt to working from home – or not working at all — homeschooling their children and caring for elderly loved ones from afar. Recently, these emotions were compounded by the news and protests stemming from George Floyd’s tragic death, along with other race-related incidents. We are a nation in crisis in many ways, and our mental health is suffering the consequences.
These factors, in turn, appear to be contributing to a higher risk for mental disorders.
Depression rates have more than doubled for working Americans. Middle-aged adults (aged 40-59) are particularly at-risk for depression. Shelter in place mandates are compounding the problem — people become isolated and interactions with caregivers and loved ones are limited, which can lead to increased feelings of loneliness, fear and uncertainty.
U.S. workers are also suffering from high levels of chronic anxiety, with risk for general anxiety disorder nearly doubling since February.
Substance abuse and addiction are also on the rise, particularly among U.S. workers age 60 and older. For those who struggle with addiction, COVID-19 has produced the perfect storm of dangerous conditions. Stress and anxiety, combined with isolation and an interruption of healthy coping strategies, together have created a trigger-rich environment for overuse and relapse.
Additionally, working Americans have not been able to rely on their usual strategies or methods to cope with temptations, such as in-person support groups, exercise clubs or even accountability networks like friends and co-workers. Working from home week after week, unsupervised and loosely managed, people have more opportunities to overindulge. These factors make recovering addicts and other substance abusers extremely vulnerable to problematic substance use.
While the risk for PTSD is high right now, the numbers are potentially indicative of past traumas. The fear and anxiety people are feeling in the midst of the pandemic is likely surfacing unresolved feelings from previous distressing events. It’s too soon for anyone to have been diagnosed with PTSD as a result of the pandemic. However, it’s possible we will see PTSD diagnoses in the future. This is one to watch.