Statement from Paul Gionfriddo, President and CEO of Mental Health America
The mental health of the nation appears to have been demonstrably and negatively affected by Wednesday’s DC riot. This is not a surprise, but it should be yet another wake-up call that all is not well with our mental health in America.
On Wednesday, January 6, 2021, 11,768 people completed a screening using Mental Health America’s free, online mental health screening program (www.mhascreening.org). Most of those screenings occurred before the reality of the riot sunk in.
Of those screened, 23.37% cited “current events*” as one of up to three reasons they chose for their mental distress at the time they screened. 5.40% cited “racism.”
On Thursday, January 7, 2021, in the aftermath of the riot, 11,826 people more completed a screening.
Of those screened, 26.81% cited “current events” as contributing to their mental distress, an increase of 3.45%. 6.44% cited “racism,” an increase of 1.04%.
There was no significant demographic difference, by age or race/ethnicity, in Wednesday’s and Thursday’s screeners.
Thursday’s results also exceeded two other comparison groups.
In December 2020, an average of 10,678 people completed a screening each day. Of those, 23.15% cited “current events” and 5.71% cited “racism” as the reason for their mental distress. And on the days at the beginning of January, daily screening counts ranged from 7920 to 11956. The percent citing current events as a reason for their distress ranged from 20.43% to 23.5%, and the percent citing racism ranged from 3.88% to 5.48%.
MHA’s screening program is one of the only tools that can measure in real-time the effects of major events on mental health. It has proven to be a reliable real-time indicator of the effects of the pandemic on the mental health of the nation (not just a help-seeking population) from the days in late February when the public became aware of the seriousness of the pandemic.
Since February 2020, we have been documenting that anxiety, depression, and other serious mental health conditions, including psychosis, have been increasing throughout the population, triggered by the pandemic, race inequity, grief, financial distress, isolation, and more. Data from the CDC have backed us up.
So, we have some confidence that the increased percentages among nearly 12,000 help-seekers who came to us yesterday were not just noise. What we all have heard anecdotally from those who experienced the trauma and distress from the riot – and those whose past traumas were rekindled by it – is real.
This is an opportunity for a further awakening of the mental health impacts of tragic and calamitous events. There will be opportunities for policymakers to address these impacts – which several members of Congress who are also veterans have likened to their time in combat – in the coming weeks and months. The bottom line is this. More than ever, our people need their help, and our representatives need our advocacy and support to get them this help.
Yesterday, the top government official in the mental health space resigned because, she wrote, “I cannot support language that results in incitement of violence and risks our very existence.” We all know toward whom those words were directed. Change cannot come soon enough.
*For clarity, “current events” does not include COVID-19, financial problems, racism, or grief/loss, which are all separate categories.