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By Paul Gionfriddo, president and CEO,
Mental Health America
As the number of cases of COVID-19 increase, so does the
For the general public, the mental health effects of
COVID-19 are as important to address as are the physical health effects. And
for the one in five who already have mental health conditions – or the one in
two who are at risk of developing them – we need to take personal,
professional, and policy measures now to address them.
Individuals who are beginning to experience “forced”
Professionals and clinical entities who interact with both
ill and well people should:
Policy leaders should:
For the past several weeks, Mental Health America (MHA) has
been using its unique database to monitor daily this increase in anxiety.
Between the first two weeks of February and the last two weeks of February, we
experienced a 19 percent increase in screening for clinical anxiety. During the
first 11 days of March, there was an additional 12 percent increase in the number
of anxiety screenings.
It is important to note two things. First, the total number
of anxiety screenings taken during that time was nearly 15,000. Second, the number
didn’t go up because of the stock market crash – the similar crash in December
2018 had no impact on the number of anxiety screenings.
MHA’s screening database is very large. People who come to
our website screen anonymously and for free, using the same evidence-based
mental health screening tools that are used by most clinicians. Nearly five
million people have taken at least one mental health screen since we began the
program in 2014. More than 300,000 took an anxiety screening in 2018 and 2019 alone.
Most of the people who take a screen are young – the vast
majority under the age of 25. It should be noted that between 42 percent of the
population that typically takes an anxiety screen has severe anxiety.
During the past three+ weeks, the percentage of people screening at a “severe
anxiety” level – a level that frequently requires medical attention – was just
over 45 percent.
This suggests that these additional screeners are not just
“worried well,” they represent thousands of people whose lives and sense of
well-being are being severely impacted by concerns about the virus. As things
unfold in the coming days and weeks, MHA will continue to monitor anxiety and
offering free tools to address it. We are also encouraging
people to take free mental health screenings.
We will have additional free “bonus” material on coping with
the pandemic in our resiliency-oriented Mental Health Month toolkit that will
be released later this month.
The virus will likely ebb in time, and we hope that
physically things will probably be back to normal in a few weeks or months –
even for most of those who get COVID-19. But the mental effects will linger for
those who lose loved ones and for those whose anxiety, post-traumatic stress,
and other serious conditions are left untreated. We will pay a price if we
don’t take all of this seriously from the start.