UTICA — According to officials with Excellus BlueCross Blue Shield, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is causing an increase in mental health issues for adults with 41% of adults report struggling with mental health or substance use.
The figure, Excellus BCBS officials said, comes from research from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and is an increase from a 20% level reported pre-COVID. Nearly one in three adults now report having symptoms of anxiety or depression.
“Behind the masks, people are hurting,” says Geoffrey Hopkins, MD, Senior Medical Director for Behavioral Health at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield.
“As we approach another year of living with COVID-19, even more attention needs to be paid to mental health challenges as our country wrestles with finding its new normal,” he said.
The National Center for Health Statistics, a part of the CDC, is monitoring the situation closely, Excellus officials said in their announcement on Monday.
In April 2020, the National Center for Health Statistics partnered with the Census Bureau to conduct an ongoing Household Pulse Survey designed to complement the ability of the federal statistical system to quickly respond to, and provide relevant information about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S.
“If there’s any good news since the start of COVID, it’s that Americans have embraced telemedicine, with its increased access to behavioral health services,” says Hopkins. “Patients can see a specific behavioral health provider on an ongoing basis from the privacy of their home, where they feel comfortable and can call at their convenience.”
He also points out that in areas that have a shortage of behavioral health professionals, especially those who treat children and adolescents, telemedicine offers patients access to behavioral health services that otherwise may not have been readily available to them.
Specialists providing care via telemedicine for behavioral health treatment include psychiatrists, social workers, psychologists, counselors, and nurse practitioners. Services include treatment of mental health conditions such as generalized anxiety disorders, major depressive disorders, dysthymic disorders, post-traumatic stress disorders and adjustment disorders.
Substance use disorders treated by telemedicine providers include opioid use disorder, alcohol use disorder, and tobacco use disorder.
“If you’re dealing with mental health issues or substance use, speak with your primary care doctor, or ask your health insurer to help you find a behavioral health provider,” advises Hopkins.
“You can get through this, you’re not alone, and you don’t suffer in silence behind your mask,” Hopkins added.
The survey is collecting information on symptoms of anxiety and depression experienced by participants. Results have been consistent since the pandemic began, with 30.8% of respondents reporting symptoms of anxiety and depression in Phase 1 of the survey (April 23 -May 5, 2020), and 27.3% reporting symptoms in Phase 3.2 (September 29 – October 11, 2021).
For comparison, asimilar pre-COVID NHIS survey conducted in 2019 found just 10.8% of adults aged 18 and over reported symptoms of anxiety disorder or depressive disorder.