U.S. Mental Health Under Growing Strain in Covid’s Second Summer
(Bloomberg) -- It’s been nearly a year since the U.S. Census Bureau started asking Americans about the mental-health effects of the pandemic -- and the latest survey shows just how much worse things have gotten since then.
Some 22.3 million Americans recently received counseling or therapy from mental-health professionals, according to new data based on research in the two weeks through Aug. 2. That’s an increase of more than 5 million compared with late August last year, when the bureau’s regular Household Pulse survey first posed the question.
There was an even bigger jump in the number of Americans saying they needed that kind of help -- but didn’t get it. That figure is up by about one-third from last summer, to 23.6 million. And some 46.4 million people are now taking prescription drugs to help with emotional or mental health, up by nearly 9 million over the period.
The survey shows how mental-health issues triggered by Covid-19 have become more widespread even as the virus itself grew less deadly –- with consequences for the society and economy that may be around for a while.
“We do have a collective trauma,” said Janis Whitlock, a director of the Jed Foundation, a nonprofit group that promotes mental-health assistance for young people. “We’ve never been in this kind of collective state of uncertainty.”
Even before the pandemic, researchers were focusing on mental health as a serious economic problem as well as a medical one.
One study found that “poor mental health days” were likely to result in tens of billions of dollars in lost output for the economy, making it one of the costliest forms of sickness.
Another argued that after factoring in “invisible costs,” including early retirement, the economic losses from mental-health problems are comparable to those caused by heart disease, and worse than cancer or diabetes.
The Census study suggests that the deterioration has been especially severe among younger adults. About 27 million people in the 18-39 age group now receive counseling or take prescription medication for mental-health reasons, up from 20.2 million in the late-August 2020 survey.
While the survey doesn’t cover those aged under 18, other research has highlighted dire effects of the pandemic on children too, including a rise in teen suicide attempts.
And data released by the American Psychological Association this spring showed the spread of a wider range of second-order pandemic effects, including unwanted weight gains, increased consumption of alcohol, and lack of sleep.
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