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News From the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
September 22/29, 2020

Pandemic’s Mental Health Toll Grows

JAMA. 2020;324(12):1130. doi:10.1001/jama.2020.17280

Considerable increases in mental health disorders since coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) emerged demonstrate the need for specific screening tools to detect pandemic-related trauma and stress, according to a recent study.

In a web-based survey that 5470 US adults completed in late June, an international team of researchers reported that about 41% of participants said they had experienced adverse behavioral or mental health symptoms during the pandemic.

Nearly one-third of those surveyed reported anxiety or depression symptoms—prevalence rates that were 3- and 4-fold higher, respectively, than during the second quarter of 2019. About 1 in 4 participants reported trauma- or stress-related symptoms, and 13.3% said their substance use increased as a way to cope. Overall, more than 1 in 10 survey respondents said they had seriously considered suicide during the previous 30 days.

Between half and three-quarters of young adults, people who identified as Hispanic, essential workers, unpaid caregivers for adults, and those who held less than a high school diploma said they had experienced at least 1 pandemic-related adverse mental health symptom. As many as 88% of people with a history of treatment for anxiety, depression, or posttraumatic stress syndrome said they had recent mental health symptoms. Suicidal ideation rates were highest among unpaid caregivers for adults, young adults, essential workers, and Hispanic or Black participants.

The authors recommended community-level intervention and prevention efforts prioritizing young adults, racial and ethnic minorities, essential workers, and unpaid adult caregivers. These efforts should include economic support to reduce financial hardship, efforts to reduce stresses related to racial discrimination, promotion of community social connections, and care for those at risk of suicide.