CDC Data Confirm Mental Health Is Suffering During COVID-19

Megan Brooks

August 13, 2020

Editor's note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's Coronavirus Resource Center.

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic continues to exact a huge toll on mental health in the United States, according to results of a survey released today by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

During late June, about 2 in 5 US adults surveyed said they were struggling with mental health or substance use. Younger adults, racial/ethnic minorities, essential workers, and those with preexisting psychiatric conditions were suffering the most.

"Addressing mental health disparities and preparing support systems to mitigate mental health consequences as the pandemic evolves will continue to be needed urgently," write Rashon Lane, with the CDC COVID-19 Response Team, and colleagues in an article published online in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

During the period of June 24 to 30, 2020, 5412 US adults aged 18 and older completed online surveys that gauged mental health, substance use, and suicidal ideation.

Overall, 40.9% of respondents reported having at least one adverse mental or behavioral health condition; 31% reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder; and 26% reported symptoms of a trauma- and stressor-related disorder related to the pandemic.

The prevalence of symptoms of anxiety disorder alone was roughly three times that reported in the second quarter of 2019, the authors note.

In addition, roughly 13% of respondents said that they started using substances or increased substance use to cope with stress or emotions related to COVID-19, and nearly 11% reported having seriously considered suicide in the preceding 30 days.

Approximately twice as many respondents reported seriously considering suicide in the prior month than did adults in the United States in 2018 (referring to the previous 12 months), the authors note.

Suicidal ideation was significantly higher among younger respondents (aged 18 – 24 years, 26%), Hispanic persons (19%), non-Hispanic Black persons (15%), unpaid caregivers for adults (31%), and essential workers (22%).

The survey results are in line with recent data from Mental Health America, which indicate dramatic increases in depression, anxiety, and suicidality since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The "markedly elevated" prevalence of adverse mental and behavioral health conditions associated with the COVID-19 pandemic highlights the "broad impact of the pandemic and the need to prevent and treat these conditions," Lane and colleagues write.

The survey also highlights populations at increased risk for psychological distress and unhealthy coping.

"Future studies should identify drivers of adverse mental and behavioral health during the COVID-19 pandemic and whether factors such as social isolation, absence of school structure, unemployment and other financial worries, and various forms of violence (eg, physical, emotional, mental, or sexual abuse) serve as additional stressors," they suggest.

Morb Mortal Wkly Rev. Published online August 13, 2020. Full text

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