The world has been learning how to acclimate to the COVID-19 pandemic, with many realizing the extreme physical toll it has taken on the population with hospitalizations and deaths. However, in the third year of the pandemic, many of the adverse effects of COVID-19 on mental health are becoming more apparent. 

According to an interesting report released by the United Nations, anxiety and stress levels have significantly risen during the pandemic, but to what extent is this being evidenced in the United States? Additionally, have more people been seeking professional help for their mental health, and how many are experiencing problems with care? These are questions more and more people are beginning to ask.

The pandemic is seen as a stressor, so, unsurprisingly, many people have been struggling to cope with the new reality the COVID-19 crisis has ushered in. Additionally, a recent study revealed that inflation and rising prices, feelings of global uncertainty, and the Ukraine war crisis are pushing people to experience more stress than usual. 

This is reflected in CivicScience’s current numbers – March saw a steep rise in stress levels culminating in 58% of U.S. adults reporting they were experiencing moderate to high stress.

What’s more, an alarming 37% of survey respondents (n=2,767) say they are experiencing chronic stress, or consistently feeling stressed out over long periods of time. Chronic stress is connected to several negative mental and physical health outcomes. 

Effects on Mental Healthcare

To identify the true toll on mental health and the healthcare system during the pandemic, CivicScience investigated whether or not more people were led to seek help for their mental health, as well as if they encountered delays or disruptions in receiving care. 

Interestingly but perhaps unsurprisingly, certain age groups of Americans started using professional healthcare services for mental health since the COVID-19 pandemic began more than others. CivicScience data revealed that 17% of those between ages 18 and 24 sought out mental healthcare services for the first time during the pandemic. On the other hand, only 2% of those older than 55 did the same. 

It’s evident that younger people are more inclined to seek help for mental health concerns. Fifty-six percent of 18- to 24-year-olds have used mental health services as often or more often than usual since the start of the pandemic. 

In contrast, only 7% of those aged 55 and older sought help for their mental health as often or more often during the pandemic, while more than 80% have never used mental healthcare services before. 

Teletherapy Usage

The consensus is that there is not enough awareness surrounding mental health care issues in the U.S., which could be helping to fuel low use of mental health services among Gen X and Baby Boomers. Teletherapy (virtual/remote therapy or counseling) offers a way to reach greater numbers of people during times of social distancing and overloaded healthcare systems. Yet, are people looking for help with mental health concerns during the pandemic through teletherapy? 

More than half of people who used mental healthcare services for the first time during the pandemic have tried teletherapy at some point. Although, a significant percentage of these new users (as well as previous users and non-users) were not satisfied with the service they received. 

In the same vein, more than half of new and previous users who have tried teletherapy like it. Previous CivicScience data show that those who like teletherapy report the highest levels of happiness.

However, a look at overall usage among the Gen Pop shows that a large proportion (76% to be exact) of people have not tried teletherapy and are not interested in trying it or have never heard of it.

Barriers to Care

Another deterrent to mental healthcare in the U.S. is problems with getting the care itself. Regarding whether those seeking mental healthcare services are experiencing barriers to care (like delays), CivicScience looked at five common issues patients might encounter when seeking care for mental health: delays/cancellations, insurance coverage, affordability, availability, and quality of care. Survey results indicate that out of 1,278 respondents, 61% who sought out mental healthcare services in the past 12 months have experienced one or more of these issues.

Twenty-two percent of people seeking out mental healthcare experienced difficulty finding affordable care in the last 12 months, while 20% experienced delays or cancellations of treatments or appointments. Moreover, 27% of people had problems finding available mental healthcare services and 26% experienced issues with insurance coverage. 

The State of Mental Healthcare

According to the data, it can be said that a far greater number of younger adults are seeking help for their mental health concerns compared to the older population. At the same time, the majority of patients who sought out care in the last 12 months experienced one or more problems, with availability and insurance coverage issues being the most prevalent. 

Additionally, it can be concluded that more than half of people who have tried teletherapy have liked it, but many have found their teletherapy sessions dissatisfying. The data also shows that the majority of people have decided not to try teletherapy and don’t intend to try it. 

Yet, stress which is a significant contributor to mental health issues has increased during the pandemic, especially with the Russia-Ukraine war crisis and inflation on the rise. Essentially, the pandemic has had a toll on mental health in the U.S., but the majority of people are not likely to seek continued teletherapy help for their mental health concerns.