COVID ‘Takes a Backseat’ to Global Events

With two years of COVID-19 in the rearview mirror, anxiety among US adults has turned instead toward global events, results from the annual Healthy Minds Poll from the American Psychiatric Association (APA) show.

“It’s not surprising that recent events, such as the war in Ukraine, racially motivated mass shootings, or the impacts of climate change, are weighing heavily on Americans’ minds,” APA President Vivian Pender, MD, said in a news release.

“COVID-19 in a way has taken a backseat, but the pandemic and its mental health effects are very much still with us. It’s important that we are cognizant of that and continue to work to ensure people who need psychiatric care, whether the causes are tied to the pandemic or to other issues, can access it,” Pender added.

Results from this year’s poll were released yesterday during the APA 2022 Annual Meeting.

Record Low COVID Anxiety

The poll was conducted by Morning Consult between April 23-24 and included 2210 adult participants.

Results showed that anxiety about COVID is at its recorded lowest, with 50% of respondents indicated they are anxious about the pandemic. This was down from 65% in 2021 and from 75% in 2020.

Instead, nearly three quarters (73%) of adults are somewhat or extremely anxious about current events happening around the world, 64% are anxious about keeping themselves or their families safe, and 60% worry about their health in general.

Overall, about one third (32%) reported being more anxious now than last year, 46% reported no change in their anxiety level, and 18% were less anxious.

About one quarter (26%) have spoken with a mental healthcare professional in the past few years, which is down from 34% in 2021. In addition, Hispanic (36%) and Black (35%) adults were more likely to have reached out for help than White (25%) adults.

Despite the US Surgeon General’s recent advisory on the mental health crisis among children, the poll results also showed that Americans are less concerned about their children’s mental health than last year. A total of 41% of parents expressed concern about this topic, which was down from 53% in 2021.

Still, 40% of parents said their children had received help from a mental health professional since the pandemic hit. Of that group, 36% sought help before the pandemic, whereas half said the pandemic had caused mental health issues for their children.

“While the overall level of concern has dropped, still 4 in 10 parents are worried about how their children are doing, and a third are having issues with access to care,” Saul Levin, MD, CEO and medical director of the APA, said in the release.

“This is unacceptable and as a nation, we need to invest in the kind of systems that will ensure any parent who’s worried about their child has access to lifesaving treatment,” Levin added.

Workplace Mental Health

In addition, the poll showed employees often have a tough time getting mental health support from employers, or are hesitant to ask for help.

“What’s troubling about the results of this poll is that even as the pandemic has continued and its mental health effects wear on, fewer employees are reporting that they have access to mental health services,” Pender said.

“Workplaces need to ensure that they are paying attention to what their employees need, particularly now, and moving away from mental health benefits isn’t the right move,” she added.

About half (48%) of those polled said they can discuss mental health openly and honestly with their supervisor, down from 56% in 2021 and 62% in 2020.

Only about half (52%) said they feel comfortable using mental health services with their current employer, compared with 64% in 2021 and 67% in 2020.

In addition, fewer workers felt their employer is offering sufficient mental health resources and benefits. This year, 53% of workers thought resources and benefits were adequate, which was down from 65% in 2021 and 68% in 2020.

“It’s quite concerning to see that fewer people feel comfortable discussing mental health with a supervisor, at a time when people experiencing symptoms of anxiety, depression, and other conditions are on the rise and impact nearly every aspect of work, including productivity, performance, retention, and overall healthcare costs,” Darcy Gruttadaro, JD, director of the APA Foundation’s Center for Workplace Mental Health, said.

“As rates of these conditions rise, we should see more employees knowing about available workplace mental health resources, not less,” Gruttadaro says.

Strong Bipartisan Support

Perhaps unexpectedly, the poll shows strong support among Democrats, Republicans, and Independents for three APA-backed approaches to improve timely access to mental health care and treatment.

Specifically, about three quarters of those polled support:

  • making it easier to see a mental health professional via telehealth,

  • allowing patients to receive mental health care through a primary care provider,

  • funding mental health care professionals to work in rural or urban communities that are traditionally underserved.

“We’re in a moment when mental health is a big part of the national conversation, and clearly political party doesn’t matter as much on this issue,” Pender noted.

“It’s a rare thing in Washington these days to see such a resounding endorsement, but there is strong support for these practical workable solutions that mean more access to mental health care,” she said.

“What you see in this poll is agreement: it’s hard to access mental [health care] But we do have great solutions that could work across party lines,” Levin added.

“Many policymakers, in the administration and in Congress, are already putting these ideas into action, and they should feel encouraged that the public Congress wants to see act on them,” he said.

American Psychiatric Association (APA) 2022 Annual Meeting. Released May 22, 2022.

For more Medscape Psychiatry news, join us on Facebook and Twitter

.

Leave a Comment