Alexandria, VA - As the “peak” of the COVID-19 pandemic draws near and government officials begin to prepare for a return to “normal business,” new data from Mental Health America (MHA) show how deeply the pandemic is affecting the mental health of the nation – and how different any “new normal” might be.
These are the new toplines gleaned from the tens of thousands screening results MHA has collected through its free, anonymous online mental health screening program in recent weeks. This latest data builds on and updates data released in mid-March.
- COVID-19 worry is leading to increases in mental health conditions, led by more than 4,895 additional moderate-to-severe anxiety screening results in February, March, and the first half of April. The number is accelerating rapidly in April; this curve is not yet bending.
- The numbers of anxiety, youth, and depression screeners all increased by 18-22 percent in March 2020. The pace of anxiety screenings in April has increased even more.
- Even when the number of screeners for a mental health condition did not increase, the severity of their March results often did – the percent with severe psychosis increased by 7 percent over the average of the previous 5 months.
- These impacts on mental health are more pronounced in young people (under the age of 25), with roughly 9 in 10 screening with moderate-to-severe depression, and people with chronic conditions, with more than 85 percent screening with moderate-to-severe anxiety and depression.
- “Loneliness and isolation” is cited by the greatest percentage of screeners (58 percent) as contributing to mental health problems “right now,” with COVID-19 close behind (48 percent).
- There was a 33 percent increase in the percent share of depression screeners who reported having a chronic condition and a 36 percent increase in the percent share of anxiety screeners who reported having a chronic condition. The share of depression screeners with a chronic health condition increased from 12 percent to 16 percent of all depression screeners, and the share of anxiety screeners with a chronic health condition increased from 11 percent to 15 percent.
“There is absolutely no question that the COVID-19 pandemic is having a profound impact on the nation’s mental health,” said Paul Gionfriddo, president and CEO of Mental Health America.
“Based on our numbers – which capture only a fraction of those affected – already more than 4,895 more people now have moderate-to-severe anxiety than would have been expected just two months ago – and many thousands more with depression. None of the more severe mental health conditions – including severe anxiety, depression, and psychosis – is going to go away on its own when the immediate threats to physical health dissipate over the coming months or years. They demand the attention of policymakers now – before they do great harm and take lives – not later.
“We know that they are directly related to worries about COVID-19. Fifty-eight percent of screeners who responded to a survey earlier this week attributed their ‘right now’ mental health condition to loneliness and isolation, 48 percent specifically to COVID-19, and 34 percent to current events. And more mental health concerns are coming. Already, 29 percent attribute their poor mental health to financial problems and 22 percent to grief - percentages that will undoubtedly grow in the coming weeks as fewer people are at work and more lose loved ones to the disease.”
MHA has joined with other mental health advocates in asking Congress for $50 billion to address these immediate mental health needs.
“We need more than this, of course,” Gionfriddo concluded, “but to date less than 1 percent of this has been appropriated in stimulus legislation.”
To access MHA’s online screening program, any help-seeking individual or caregiver can go to http://www.mhascreening.org. The screening tools offered are the most common ones used by mental health professionals. All MHA screeners get an immediate result after screening, and customized suggestions for what they can do next.
MHA documented an uptick in the number of anxiety screenings that corresponded to the increase in worry about the COVID-19 pandemic beginning in mid-February.
MHA’s screening population is large, with 2,000 or more screenings being taken every day. Nearly 5 million screenings have been completed in the past six years, giving MHA useful baseline data from which to draw inferences from the most recent two months.
Because most screeners have never been diagnosed with a mental health condition previously, it is the only comprehensive, real-time data resource in the nation that can quantify the mental health impact of COVID-19 in the broad population.
Paul Gionfriddo will present additional mental health screening data related to COVID-19 at a presentation tomorrow, April 17, 2020 at an 11 a.m. webinar sponsored by the National Health Council. Registration for the webinar is open. Mr. Gionfriddo is available for interviews upon request, and his slide deck for the NHC presentation is also available from MHA, following the webinar.