Mental health issues continue during pandemic

March 29, 2021

The percentage of adults who had symptoms of an anxiety or a depressive disorder increased significantly from August 2020 to February 2021, with the largest increases among those between adults 18-29 years of age and those with less than a high school education, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR).

The CDC said the findings are consistent with results from surveys conducted early in the COVID-19 pandemic (March-June 2020) that showed an increased prevalence of mental health symptoms, especially among young adults. The more recent results indicate an increasing prevalence over time later in 2020, which remained increased in early 2021. The trends in symptoms of an anxiety or a depressive disorder from HPS have been shown to be consistent with trends in the weekly number of reported COVID-19 cases, and it has been theorized that increases in these mental health indicators correspond with pandemic trends.

During August 19, 2020-February 1, 2021, the percentage of adults with symptoms of an anxiety or a depressive disorder during the past 7 days increased significantly (from 36.4% to 41.5%), as did the percentage reporting that they needed but did not receive mental health counseling or therapy during the past 4 weeks (from 9.2% to 11.7%). Increases were largest among adults aged 18-29 years and among those with less than a high school education. HPS data can be used in near real time to evaluate the impact of strategies that address mental health status and care of adults during the COVID-19 pandemic and to guide interventions for groups that are disproportionately affected.

To rapidly monitor changes in mental health status and access to care during the COVID-19 pandemic, the CDC partnered with the U.S. Census Bureau to conduct the Household Pulse Survey (HPS). HPS is a rapid-response online survey using a probability-based sample design to measure the social and economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on U.S. households.

Questions on mental health symptoms were based on the validated four-item Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-4) for depression and anxiety and included how often, during the past 7 days, respondents had been bothered by 1) feeling nervous, anxious, or on edge; 2) not being able to stop or control worrying; 3) having little interest or pleasure in doing things; and 4) feeling down, depressed, or hopeless.

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