More People Got Mental-Health Treatment During the Pandemic

MThe National Center of Health Statistics released Sept. 7 data that showed more Americans seeking treatment for mental health disorders in the COVID-19 outbreak than ever before. According to data from the National Center of Health Statistics, 19.2% Americans reported that they had taken a prescription for mental-health conditions or received counseling. This number rose to 21.6% by 2021.

This was the age group with the greatest growth, between 18 and 44 years old. In 2019, nearly 19% of this group had received treatment for mental-health issues. This number rose to 23% by 2021. Recent research also shows that people younger than 44 years old are more likely to suffer from mental-health symptoms in the initial years of the pandemic. In 2020, 63% reported experiencing symptoms of depression and anxiety, while more than 40% reported feeling the same.

Younger women are more likely than their male counterparts to seek mental-health treatment. Nearly 24% (and 13% respectively) of all women aged 18-44 received mental health treatment in 2019. These numbers increased to 29% and 18% by 2021.

The pandemic was preceded by signs such as a rise in suicide rates among young girls and women, which indicated that women had been already at risk. The pandemic compounded existing stressors on young women’s mental health, says Rachel Donnelly, an assistant professor of sociology at Vanderbilt University (who was not involved in the study). “These additional stressors are falling particularly hard on mothers, especially young women,” Donnelly says. They suffered the brunt of the consequences from closures at schools, increased caregiving and loss of jobs during the flu epidemic. “Who’s going to be responsible for homeschooling?” Donnelly says. “If your kid is sick or has to quarantine, who’s the parent that’s most likely to stay home with them?”

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The increasing number of people who use mental-health services could be an indication that there are more Americans in need of this kind of care. New ways were created for Americans to get mental-health care through the Pandemic. Telehealth was used for just 1% (March 2020) of outpatient visits for substance and mental health care. The Kaiser Family Foundation’s March analysis found that this number rose to 36% by August 2021. Telehealth and mental-health services were also covered by Medicaid, as well as other insurance companies.

However, many people still aren’t receiving the mental-health care they need. According to new data, less than half of Black, Hispanic and Asian Americans aged 18-44 received mental health care in 2021. There were also very small gains in care between 2019 and 2021. Hispanics saw a 1.1% rise, while Asians saw a 4.8% increase, and Blacks only 2.4%. These numbers indicate unequal access, Donnelly said. For example, while telehealth was a boon to some people, it might not have been an option for people who don’t have high-speed internet access or a quiet room in which to talk to a therapist, she points out.

While research suggests that people of color—including Black, Hispanic, and Asian Americans—were more likely to experience harm to their mental health during the pandemic and the traumatic racially motivated killings that happened during it, the new data show that white people were more than twice as likely as people in other racial groups to secure mental-health care during the pandemic. In the period 2019-2021, care-seeking increased by 6.6% for white Americans under age 50. However, the increase was only 4.6% for young black Americans compared with 2019, and it declined 2.2% from its 2020 peak one year later.

Donnelly states that individuals of color face more structural barriers than whites to be able to get mental-health care. They’re less likely to have paid time off and to receive health insurance from their employer, for instance, and they tend to have fewer economic resources. “We know that there are inequities in mental health—especially during the pandemic, which has had much more severe consequences overall for people of color,” Donnelly says. “There are a lot of structural barriers. It’s going to add up.”

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