We may be dealing with the mental health after-effects of the pandemic long after we’ve reached herd immunity.
According to the United States Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey, the average share of adults reporting symptoms of anxiety or depression increased to 41.1% in January. That is a nearly fourfold increase from the 11% observed over the January through June 2019 period, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. Prior to the pandemic, the World Health Organization estimated that poor mental health cost the global economy $1 trillion in lost productivity alone. In 2019 the U.S. spent $225 billion treating mental health. These figures will certainly increase post-pandemic.
The pandemic’s effect on mental health does not appear evenly distributed across the U.S. West Coast states and the South appear harder hit than the Midwest, for example, but all states are well above the 11% baseline. For instance, Mississippi saw the largest increase to 41.3% and Minnesota saw the lowest increase to 22.6%
Now, of course, the 11% baseline average is an inexact starting point. It’s a national average from a different survey with a different methodology. However, like so many other areas of mental health, resources are lacking, and this is the data we have available.
When state funding for mental health is taken into consideration, not every state is equally prepared to deal with the potentially long-lasting effects from the pandemic.
For example, Mississippi spent $55.95 per capita on mental health, which ranked 43rd among states, according to data compiled by the Kaiser Family Foundation for the fiscal year 2013, the last year for which data is available.
At the same time, Mississippi ranked first in increased anxiety and depression, leaving Mississippi with a disparity score of -42. California was fourth in increased anxiety and 14th in funding (a disparity of -10). Florida and New Mexico did not have state funding data available.
This differential between an increase in anxiety and depression symptoms and mental health funding also indicates some regional differences. The Northeast and Upper Midwest generally rank lower in increased symptoms and higher in funding. States in the South and West may face lingering challenges if the mental health needs of their residents are not met.
This presents an opportunity for health care providers to think creatively about addressing mental health needs. We have seen how the pandemic has pulled forward digital health technology, including virtual mental health services. The scalability of technology can provide access to the millions of people now suffering symptoms of anxiety or depression. Investing in such solutions has perhaps never been more prudent.
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