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By Paul Gionfriddo, President and CEO of Mental Health America

Some new data Mental Health America (MHA) released earlier this month show how deeply the pandemic is affecting the mental health of the nation – and how different any “new normal” might be.

This is especially true for people with chronic physical health conditions – and there will be more people with these as some of the millions who get COVID-19 struggle with the long-term physical effects of the virus itself.

For all of us, a better way to think about the bending of the curve is this – we’re just entering the eye of the storm. And for our mental health the backend of this storm is going to hit with just as much force as the front did.

Here’s why.

On our Screening to Supports (S2S) platform, the share of depression screeners with a chronic health condition increased from 12 percent to 16 percent of all depression screeners, and the share of anxiety screeners with a chronic health condition increased from 11 percent to 15 percent.

Another way of saying this is that there was a 33% increase in the percent share of depression screeners who reported having a chronic condition and a 36% increase in the percent share of anxiety screeners who reported having a chronic condition.

Of those depression screeners, 86 percent scored in the moderate-to-severe range. Eighty percent of anxiety screeners also did.

And scores like this were typical of every chronic condition significant numbers of screeners reported:

  • 88 percent of those with chronic pain were positive for depression, 84 percent were positive for anxiety.
  • 89 percent of those with lung conditions were positive for depression, 83 percent were positive for anxiety.
  • 85 percent of those with heart conditions were positive for depression, 75 percent were positive for anxiety.
  • 85 percent of those with diabetes were positive for depression, 77 percent were positive for anxiety.
  • There are always some people who will dismiss these numbers, arguing that the depression and anxiety will disappear when COVID-19 is brought under control.

I call these people dreamers and optimists. And I admire them for their ability to hope only for the best during times we face the worst. But I have as much faith in those dreams as I do in the dreams of people who think that the other conditions they have – heart disease, cancer, lung problems, diabetes, and pain – will also just disappear when COVID-19 is brought under control.

That is not going to happen. We know better.

And we know that depression and anxiety are real conditions that are debilitating - and even sometimes deadly - when they are not treated.

The thing is, we know how to screen for depression and anxiety (hundreds and thousands do it every day at www.mhascreening.org), and we know how to treat them effectively.

What we need are the resources. And in order to get those necessary resources, we need the commitment of our public officials to put as much effort into treating our mental health as they do our physical health. Because the mental health of our country – before, during and after this pandemic subsides – is in desperate need of attention.

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