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Sad, depressed woman looking over her balcony. Learn more about COVID and its impact on the nation’s mental health.

The Mental Health Implication of the COVID-19 Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic may feel like it's coming to an end, as vaccines become available and mandates begin lifting across the U.S. Unfortunately, the country can still feel the toll the pandemic took on American's mental health, as evident by the increase in anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and overdoses in the past year.

From January to September 2020, 1.5 million people accessed an online screening program offered by Mental Health America (MHA). MHA explored the data from these screenings and released their findings in their 2021 State of Mental Health in America report. Here's what they found:

Skyrocketing Numbers of People Seek Help for Anxiety and Depression

From January to September 2020, the number of people who took their online anxiety screening increased by 93% from 2019. During that same time, MHA saw a 62% increase in depression screens.

Severe Depression and Anxiety On the Rise

More than 8 in 10 people who took a depression screen in September 2020 scored with moderate to severe depression symptoms. The number of people screening with moderate to severe symptoms of depression and anxiety continued to increase throughout 2020. 

More Thoughts of Suicide and Self-Harm

More people have reported frequent thoughts of suicide and self-harm than have ever been recorded in the MHA Screening program since its launch in 2014. Since March 2020, over 178,000 people have reported frequent suicidal ideation. 37% of people reported having thoughts of suicide daily in September 2020. 

Youth Struggling with Mental Health

Young people are struggling most with their mental health. The proportion of youth ages 11-17 who accessed screening was 9% higher than the average in 2019. Youth ages 11-17 have also been more likely to score for moderate to severe anxiety and depression symptoms than any other age group.

Youth also have the highest rates of suicidal ideation, especially LGBTQ+ youth. In September 2020, over half of 11-17-year-olds reported having thoughts of suicide or self-harm nearly every day. From January to September 2020, 77,470 youth reported experiencing frequent suicidal ideation, including 27,980 LGBTQ+ youth. 

Isolation and Loneliness Contributing Factors

Loneliness and isolation are the biggest struggles for people screening at risk for mental health conditions. From April to September 2020, 70% of people who screened with moderate or severe symptoms of anxiety or depression reported loneliness or isolation as contributing factors.

Increased Mental Health Screenings for Minority Groups

While rates of anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation are increasing for people of all races and ethnicities, there are notable differences in those changes over time. 

  • Asian or Pacific Islander screeners searched for mental health resources more than ever before. 
  • Black or African American screeners have had the highest average percent change over time for anxiety and depression
  • Native American or American Indian screeners have had the highest average percent change over time for suicidal ideation

Increases in Alcohol and Substance Use, Overdoses

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 13% of Americans reported starting or increasing substance use as a way of coping with stress or emotions related to COVID-19. 

Overdoses have also spiked since the onset of the pandemic. A reporting system called ODMAP shows that the early months of the pandemic brought an 18% increase nationwide in overdoses compared with those same months in 2019. 

The trend has continued throughout 2020. According to the American Medical Association, more than 40 U.S. states have seen increases in opioid-related mortality along with ongoing concerns for those with substance use disorders.

Certain mental disorders are risk factors for developing a substance use disorder. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, it is common for individuals with mild or severe mental disorders to use drugs as a form of self-medication.

The pandemic is far from over. Its lasting impact may be fully felt not in the financial aftermath but in the lasting effects of mental health, substance abuse disorders, and overdoses in America.

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