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Poll: Here's COVID-19 Toll on Americans' Mental Health

April 24, 2020

Nearly half of American adults report that the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted their mental health, according to a new poll released by the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF). Even with that high percentage, the real measurement of the pandemic’s effect will come later, after hospital beds empty and people emerge from their homes, said Michael Dewberry, MD, senior associate medical director, Institute of Living, part of the Hartford HealthCare Behavioral Health Network (BHN). “The stress and anxiety of this pandemic is impacting everyone to some degree,” Dr. Dewberry said. “We worry about the long-term effect of financial difficulties, uncertainty, social distancing and isolation. We know these measures are meant to slow virus spread, but they can lead to negative mental health outcomes such as depression, substance abuse and even post-traumatic stress disorder.” Using data from the KFF poll, a research team released a brief exploring such issues. Key points include:

  • Forty-seven percent of people staying home during the pandemic reported worry and stress negatively affected their mental health, vs. 37 percent of those who did not.
  • Effects of such isolation were more pronounced in older adults and adolescents, groups already at risk for depression or suicide. Older adults, 27 percent of whom live alone, accounted for one in five suicide deaths in 2018.
Adolescents are affected by more than the disruption to their education by school closures. They can’t access physical, social and mental health services at school, and lose chances for social interaction. The pandemic can exacerbate existing mental illness in teens, one in 10 of whom reportedly have depression or anxiety. Suicide is already the second leading cause of death for teens, and substance use remains a concern.
  • With a record 22 million filing for unemployment by early April, income instability became a viable cause for depression and anxiety for KFF poll respondents. The researchers said that could spur higher rates of substance abuse disorder and suicide. The poll revealed 54 percent of those losing income or jobs reported stress that negatively impacted their mental health, vs. 40 percent with no job or income loss.
The impact was more pronounced in lower income groups. Twenty-six percent of people making less than $40,000 a year reported a major negative impact on their mental health vs. 17 percent of those with incomes $40,000 to $89,000 – and 14 percent making $90,000 or more.
  • People with chronic illnesses like asthma, heart conditions or diabetes were more likely to report that COVID-19 negatively affects their mental health. The KFF poll revealed that 53 percent of those with fair or poor health said pandemic-related worry or stress is negatively impacting their mental health, compared to 44 percent of people reportedly in excellent, very good or good health.
Additionally, the National Institute on Drug Abuse has stated that while little is known about COVID-19 and substance use, potential associations between the two exist. Dr. Dewberry said the job of mental health clinicians is to be available when people need help. During the pandemic, he said the BHN has remained open for inpatient care and made outpatient services virtual through telehealth visits and online support group. “This Kaiser Family Foundation information only reassures what we had projected – that in the world post-COVID, we will need to be ready with even more services because more people will need us,” Dr. Dewberry said. “This is going to have long-term health implications.” The Hartford HealthCare Behavioral Health Network is now scheduling virtual-health visits for mental health and addiction services. Call your provider for details. New patients can schedule a virtual visit by calling 1.888.984.2408. Not feeling well? Call your healthcare provider for guidance and try to avoid going directly to an emergency department or urgent care center, as this could increase the chances of the disease spreading. Need to see your doctor? New Patient? For more information about Hartford HealthCare virtual health visits, click here. Click here to schedule a virtual visit with a Hartford HealthCare-GoHealth Urgent care doctor. Stay with Hartford HealthCare for everything you need to know about the coronavirus threat. Click here for information updated daily. Questions? Call our 24-hour hotline (860.972.8100 or, toll-free, 833.621.0600).  Get text alerts by texting 31996 with COVID19 in the message field.