A recent survey reveals the US population has seen a significant increase in mental health challenges, substance use, and suicide ideation during the COVID-19 pandemic . Health experts and researchers attribute this increase in mental and behavioral health conditions to the morbidity and mortality caused by the virus, along with COVID-19 mitigation efforts such as stay-at-home orders and social distancing .
Survey Reveals Increased Suicide Ideation & Addiction in COVID-19
In late June 2020, an online survey found that over 40 percent of US adults were struggling with substance abuse or mental health issues associated with the COVID-19 pandemic . The survey, conducted by Qualtrics and involving over 5,000 respondents aged 18 years and older, revealed symptoms of depressive disorder, anxiety disorder, substance abuse, and suicide ideation had significantly increased in comparison to the same period in 2019.
Approximately one in 10 (13.3 percent) respondents said they started or increased substance use to cope with emotions/stress related to the COVID-19 pandemic, while 11 percent of respondents reported serious consideration of suicide in the past 30 days.
Further, 31 percent of respondents reported anxiety and depression symptoms, while 26 percent showed symptoms of a trauma/stressor-related disorder (TSRD) related to the pandemic . These numbers are considerably higher than in previous years, showing a direct connection between the COVID-19 pandemic and mental health and substance use issues.
For example, the prevalence of anxiety disorder symptoms was three times higher in April-June 2020 compared to the same period in 2019, while the prevalence of depressive disorder was four times greater than was reported during the second quarter of 2019.
In addition, suicide ideation was significantly higher, with two times as many respondents reporting serious consideration of suicide in the past 30 days compared to the number of US adults who contemplated suicide in 2018 .
Mental Health Conditions Disproportionately Affect Specific Populations in COVID-19
While 40.9 percent of total respondents (general population) were experiencing at least one adverse behavioral or mental health condition associated with COVID-19, the prevalence of mental health and substance abuse issues was even higher among specific subgroups. Below is a breakdown of how suicide ideation is disproportionately affecting various subgroups during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Serious suicide ideation in the past 30 days:
- 10.7 percent of general population respondents
- 25.5 percent of respondents aged 18-24 years
- 15.1 to 18.6 percent of respondents in minority racial/ethnic groups
- 21.7 percent of essential workers
- 30.7 percent of unpaid caregivers for adults
Furthermore, Hispanic respondents reported higher rates of COVID-19-related TSRD, depressive disorder, and anxiety disorder, as well as increased substance use than did non-Hispanic Asian and non-Hispanic white respondents. Black respondents also reported higher rates of increased substance use than did Asian and white respondents.
Additionally, suicide ideation, increased substance use, and COVID-19-related TSRD were more frequent among employed respondents than unemployed respondents as well as more prevalent among essential workers than nonessential workers.
Likewise, respondents who were being treated for depression, anxiety, or PTSD at the time of the survey reported higher rates of adverse behavioral and mental health conditions than those who were not being treated for a diagnosed mental health condition.
Finally, suicide ideation and substance abuse were significantly higher among unpaid caregivers for adults, with 30.7 percent of this group reporting serious suicide consideration in the past 30 days and 32.9 percent reporting increased substance use .
In short, suicide ideation, addiction, and other mental health conditions are disproportionately impacting specific populations during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of the most adversely affected populations include young adults, essential workers, minority racial/ethnic groups, individuals receiving treatment for previously-diagnosed mental health conditions, and unpaid caregivers for adults.
In light of these findings, greater efforts must be made to address the numerous mental health conditions associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. Community-level efforts such as increased mental health screening, prevention strategies, and treatment efforts should make young adults, essential workers, racial/ethnic minorities, and unpaid adult caregivers a top priority.
 Czeisler MÉ , Lane RI, Petrosky E, et al. Mental Health, Substance Use, and Suicidal Ideation During the COVID-19 Pandemic — United States, June 24–30, 2020. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2020;69:1049–1057. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6932a1.
About the Author:
Sarah Musick is a freelance writer who specializes in eating disorder awareness and education. After battling with a 4-years long eating disorder, she made it her mission to help others find hope and healing in recovery.
Her work has been featured on numerous eating disorder blogs and websites. When she’s not writing, Sarah is off traveling the world with her husband.
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Published December 23, 2020, on EatingDisorderHope.com
Reviewed & Approved on December 23, 2020, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC