Americans' Biggest Source of Anxiety? Hint: It's Not COVID

Megan Brooks

July 14, 2022

Anxiety over the US economy intensified in June, with 87% of Americans reporting they are anxious or very anxious about inflation, up eight percentage points from the previous month, results from a new national report from the American Psychiatric Association (APA) show.

"The economy seems to have supplanted COVID as a major factor in Americans’ day-to-day anxiety," APA President Rebecca Brendel, MD, JD, said in a news release.

"Knowing that so many Americans are concerned about finances is important because it can prepare clinicians to be ready to approach the subject, which is one that people are often reluctant or ashamed to raise on their own," Brendel told Medscape Medical News.

What’s the best way to bring up the sensitive topic of money?

"In general, it’s best to start with open-ended questions to allow individuals in therapy to share what is on their minds, explore their concerns, and develop strategies to address these issues. Once a patient raises a concern, that is a good time to ask more about the issues they’ve raised and to explore other potential sources of anxiety or stress," said Brendel.

The latest APA poll was conducted by Morning Consult, June 18-20, 2022, among a nationally representative sample of 2210 adults.

In addition to an uptick in worry about inflation, the poll shows that more than half (51%) of adults are worried about a potential loss of income.

Hispanic adults (66%), mothers (65%), millennials (63%), and genZers (62%) are among the groups most likely to be concerned about income loss.

"Stress is not good for health, mental or physical. So, while it’s a reality that Americans are faced with finding ways of making ends meet, it’s more important than ever to make sure that we are all accessing the care that we need," said Brendel.

"People should be aware that there may be low- or no-cost options such as community mental health centers or employer-sponsored resources to address mental health concerns," she added.

Coping With Traumatic Events

The latest poll also shows that about one third of adults are worried about gun violence (35% overall, 47% among genZers) or a natural disaster (29%) personally affecting them.

Climate change anxiety is also up slightly in June compared with May (+4%).

The same goes for mid-term election-related anxiety (+3%) — particularly among Democrats (54% vs 59%) compared with Republicans (48% vs 48%).

The latest poll also provides insight how Americans would cope after a traumatic event. More adults report they will turn to family and friends for support (60%) than practice self-care (42%), speak openly about their feelings (37%), or seek help from a professional (31%). Nearly one third (30%) say they will move on from it and not dwell on their feelings.

GenZers are the least likely to say they will speak openly about their feelings (29%) and are less likely than millennials to say they would speak to a health professional (28% vs 38%).

"While many people show resilience, it’s troubling that most Americans wouldn’t speak openly about their feelings after a traumatic event," APA CEO and Medical Director Saul Levin, MD, said in the news release.

"In many ways, naming feelings is the most important step toward healing, and this reluctance to air our thoughts may indicate that mental health stigma is still a powerful force in our society," Levin said.

After a traumatic current event, 41% of Americans say they consume more news and 30% say they take in more social media, but the majority say this does not impact their mental health, the poll shows.

Two in five adults (43%) say the news of a traumatic event makes them feel more informed, 32% say it makes them feel more anxious, and about one quarter say it makes them feel overwhelmed (27%) or discouraged (24%).

Brendel noted that, after a traumatic event, "it’s expected that people may experience anxiety or other symptoms for brief periods of time. However, no two people experience things the same way. If symptoms don’t go away, are overwhelming, or get worse over time, for example, it’s critical to seek help right away."

The June poll also shows that 50% of Americans are anxious about the future of reproductive rights but the poll was conducted before the Dobbs ruling.

Anxiety around COVID-19 continues to ease, with about 47% of Americans saying they are concerned about the pandemic, down 2% among all Americans and 16% among Black Americans since May.

The APA’s Healthy Minds Monthly tracks timely mental health issues throughout the year. The APA also releases its annual Healthy Minds Poll each May in conjunction with Mental Health Awareness Month.

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