Survey Shows Drastic Increase of Anxiety, Depression Since Pandemic Began

According to Mental Health America (MHA), the number of people who screened positively for depression and anxiety using MHA’s free and anonymous online screening tool has shot up dramatically since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

Using November 2019 to January 2020 average results as a baseline, MHA determined that 88,405 more people screened positive on depression and anxiety screenings than expected between mid-to-late February and May.

More than 211,000 people took the screenings in May, compared with 69,626 in April, yet “severity continued to track equal to or higher than our pre-pandemic baselines,” according to an MHA presentation of the data.

MHA has had a free, anonymous online screening program since 2014. Visitors to MHA’s website can take screening tests for depression, anxiety, postpartum depression, eating disorders, psychosis, and other psychiatric disorders. MHA tells visitors that the screens are meant to be “a quick snapshot of your mental health,” according to the website, and urges them to see a mental health clinician for a full assessment and to talk about treatment options.

The tests are “the same evidence-based mental health screening tools that are used by most clinicians,” according to a June 2 news release. The source of the depression test is the Patient Health Questionnaire-9 (PHQ-9), and the source for the anxiety test is the Primary Care Evaluation of Mental Disorders Patient Health Questionnaire (PRIME-MD-PHQ).

Additional findings from MHA’s data include the following:

  • More than 21,000 people considered self-harm or suicide in May, a jump from 7,061 in April.
  • The impacts on mental health have been pronounced in people younger than 25. Roughly 9 in 10 people under 25 screened positive for moderate-to-severe depression, and 8 in 10 screened positive for moderate-to-severe anxiety, according to the presentation.
  • Screeners for both anxiety and depression reported that the main factor contributing to their mental health problems in both April and May was loneliness or isolation.

In the news release, MHA President and CEO Paul Gionfriddo said the suicide and self-harm numbers reported in May are especially striking. “When you consider that a total of 45,000 to 50,000 Americans die by suicide every year and nearly half that number reported suicidal or self-harm thinking in just May alone, this has to be a wake-up call to policymakers to act now to prevent this,” he said.

“Our May screening numbers were unprecedented,” Gionfriddo said in the release. “And what is most troubling is that the numbers—consistent with the numbers from the U.S. Government’s Census Bureau—demonstrate not only that there is not yet any relief from the mental health impacts of the pandemic, but that the impacts actually seem to be spreading and accelerating.”

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