Health help: US adults with mental illnesses double during the pandemic

CDC findings show more stressors during COVID-19 pandemic

The amount of adults with a mental illness has doubled since the COVID-19 pandemic started in March and medical professionals want people to know how to get help.

According to a recent survey of more than 5,400 people, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found 41% of respondents are struggling with negative mental health impacts due to the pandemic.

The survey found that of that 41%, people reported at least one mental or behavioral health condition:

  • 31% said they’d experienced symptoms of anxiety or depression,
  • 26% said they’d experienced trauma or stressor-related disorder symptoms,
  • 13% said they’d started or increased substance use,
  • 11% said they’d seriously considered suicide in the last 30 days.

People with existing mental health issues saw an even higher rate of impacts. Prior to the pandemic, 20% of adults in America lived with a mental illness.

Dr. Terry Lee with the Community Health Plan of Washington said this is a time of stress for many people and because we don’t know when the pandemic will end, that can cause even more stress.

“A lot of people are staying at home,” Lee said, “They’re not doing the usual things. The kids are staying at home. There could loss of income and concerns about food, housing. There are a lot of reasons to be very stressed.”

Dr. Lee said throughout the pandemic though, help has been available for behavioral health needs. Through the Community Health Plan of Washington, people can receive care in person or through telemedicine. Patients can receive treatment for substance abuse, metal health or just a check-up to see how they are feeling during a global pandemic. Dr. Lee said it can be reassuring to get advice from a health professional when you are facing a challenge even if it ends up being regular stress.

“With a therapist you could decide together, should you engage in more ongoing therapy or not,” Lee said.

He mentioned three tips for anyone to relieve stress including connecting with others, physical activity and keeping a consistent routine. In Benton and Franklin counties, groups are still limited to five people or less, but Dr. Lee said talking on the phone or texting can be good for mental health. Physical activity can release chemicals inside the body that positively impact mental health, plus adding it to your routine could result in long term improvements. Dr. Lee said a routine is important for adults and children including a sleeping and eating schedule will help reduce stress. He also mentioned trying new things to have some fun. He said people are taking up new activities and hobbies right now that are completely new. He says to try something you’ve never done before and see how you feel about it.