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Rates of Anxiety, Depressive Disorders Soar Amid Pandemic

August 26, 2020

In a report released this week, the American Mental Health Counselors Association estimated that 41% of Americans are experiencing a mental illness, such as general anxiety disorder or major depressive disorder, compared to just 8.2% of adults who had symptoms of anxiety disorder and 6.6% with symptoms of depressive disorder in 2019. Moreover, by the end of the year, 103 million U.S. adults are projected to have a mental health or behavioral health condition, which includes substance use disorder, compared to 75 million prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic, economic calamity and racial tensions were cited as a “perfect storm” of major contributing factors that have sent rates of mental health disorders soaring this year, the association said in its report, which is based on a CDC survey of 5,470 participants in June. Of those surveyed:

  • 31% reported symptoms of anxiety or depression
  • 26% reported trauma/stressor-related disorder symptoms
  • 13% said they started or increased substance use
  • 11% said they seriously considered suicide within the previous 30 days

Action items

In its report, AMHCA outlined a series of recommended action items to reverse the aforementioned trends:

  • Promote health equity by addressing systemic barriers within the nation’s healthcare infrastructure, specifically around race, bias and discrimination. The association advocates for accountability measures at both individual and system levels that link payment, professional certification and licensure to quality of care.
  • Support the development of a robust, diverse and culturally competent healthcare workforce, including adequate training on cultural sensitivity.
  • Enforce federal and state parity laws.
  • Expand access to care through telehealth initiatives, and make permanent policy changes that temporarily loosened restrictions around telehealth in response to the pandemic. Currently, the report notes, 119 million Americans live in parts of the country designated as Mental Health Care Professional Shortage Areas, in which no licensed mental health professionals are available.
  • Integrate mental healthcare, including substance use disorder treatment, into medical care that creates a whole-person model of care.
  • Increase access to health and mental health insurance through Medicaid expansion.
  • Encourage federal and state agencies to provide current information on therapists and mental health resources for the public to promote access to care.
  • Increase access to licensed mental healthcare providers through Medicare reimbursement for older adults and disabled individuals.

“The resulting tsunami of mental health concerns requires a comprehensive and integrated policy response with intentional, culturally responsive policy and practices to reduce the negative impacts of racial trauma, discrimination, and oppression while promoting short- and long-term mental health and well-being,” AMHCA president Angele Moss-Baker, one of the report’s co-authors, said in a news release.

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