40 percent of U.S. adults struggled with mental health, substance abuse in June, new study finds

The coronavirus pandemic has taken a serious toll on mental health, according to a new study published Friday from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The study, of more than 5,400 U.S. adults 18 and older, conducted between June 24 and June 30, found that, overall, more than 40 percent of respondents reported at least one adverse mental or behavioral health condition. In the study, which was released Friday in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), 31 percent reported experiencing symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder, more than 26 percent reported symptoms of a trauma- and stressor-related disorder (resulting from exposure to a traumatic or stressful life event) related to the pandemic, and more than 13 percent reported starting or increasing substance use to cope with stress or emotions related to COVID-19.

In addition, 11 percent of respondents reported having seriously considered suicide in the 30 days before completing the survey — this was significantly higher among those ages 18 to 24 (25.5 percent), Hispanic (18.6 percent) and non-Hispanic Black respondents (15.1 percent), self-reported unpaid caregivers for adults (30.7 percent) and essential workers (21.7 percent).

The study also highlighted how younger adults (18-24 years old), minorities, essential workers and unpaid adult caregivers are reporting “disproportionately worse mental health outcomes, increased substance use, and increased thoughts of suicide.”

Dr. Elinore McCance-Katz, the assistant secretary for mental health and substance use, who leads the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, tells Yahoo Life that, while the study results are troubling, they are “not all that unexpected,” adding that “this has been shown in many other places where quarantines have been put in place.”

McCance-Katz notes that a March review of multiple studies on the mental health effects of lockdowns due to the coronavirus, which was published in the Lancet, found that those quarantined for more than 10 days showed significantly higher post-traumatic stress symptoms than those quarantined for less time. “What we didn’t know — and what I am so concerned about — is we’ve never seen quarantine for as long as what’s been going on in this country,” she says.

Study co-author Rashon Lane, a behavioral scientist at the CDC, tells Yahoo Life: “We’ve seen during other health emergencies that symptoms of anxiety disorder, depressive disorder, substance use and suicidal ideation increase. The recent MMWR [Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report] publication shows that these symptoms increased considerably in the United States during April and June compared with the same period in 2019.”

McCance-Katz explains that the isolation and lack of social support during quarantine can cause “a lot of anxiety and depression.” She adds, “Some people will experience this as traumatic and experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Those kinds of mental health problems can lead to suicidality, and the CDC data showed that as well.”

“When people lose their day-to-day routines and don’t have structured time, what they will, in too many cases, do is move to substances to numb them from the anxiety, depression and trauma they’re feeling,” she says, noting that sales of alcohol, including sales of alcohol delivered directly to people’s homes, have increased during quarantine.

Not knowing how long the pandemic will last doesn’t help. “One of the most difficult things for people to cope with is not knowing when it’s going to end,” says McCance-Katz. “When you tell people we don’t know when it’s going to end, this is very, very stressful for people.”

To help people who are struggling or in crisis in the meantime, Colleen Carr, the director of the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention, tells Yahoo Life that the U.S. needs “a united national response to mental health and suicide prevention.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic is the most serious public health crisis our nation has faced in more than a century,” says Lane. “Addressing mental health disparities and preparing support systems to mitigate mental health consequences are urgent needs with the potential to save lives.”

Lane adds: “To address the concerns of groups that are disproportionally affected by mental health burden, community-level intervention and prevention efforts should include strengthening economic supports to reduce financial strain, addressing stress from experienced racial or ethnic discrimination, promoting social connectedness and supporting persons at risk for suicide.”

Experts say the CDC study highlights the need to simultaneously focus on mental and physical health. “We’ve been prioritizing our physical health — washing our hands, wearing a mask and social distancing — but this study underscores the importance of also caring for our emotional needs,” says Carr, “taking care of our own mental health and reaching out to those who might be struggling.”

If you or someone you know is experiencing an emotional crisis or has thoughts of suicide, there are several free, confidential services available 24/7 that can help:

  • For those experiencing a suicidal crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255), or text the Crisis Text Line (text HOME to 741741).

  • For emotional support specifically related to COVID-19, call the Disaster Distress Helpline at 800-985-5990, or text TalkWithUs to 66746.

  • For help with substance abuse, call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration National Helpline: 800-662-HELP (4357) or TTY 800-487-4889.

  • For those who identify as part of the LGBTQ community, call the TrevorLifeline (866-488-7386) or text START to 678-678.

  • For veterans who are in crisis, call the Veterans Crisis Line (800-273-8255 and press 1) or text 838255.

  • For frontline workers struggling with anxiety, stress, fear or isolation, text FRONTLINE to 741741.

    For the latest coronavirus news and updates, follow along at https://news.yahoo.com/coronavirus. According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC’s and WHO’s resource guides.

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