Introduction

The coronavirus pandemic in the U.S. and the changes in the daily lives of Americans that ensued have taken a toll on people’s mental health and created new barriers for those seeking mental health care. Stress and worry about contracting the virus, coupled with job losses, loss of childcare, as well as the devastating loss of loved ones due to COVID-19 are just a few ways in which the pandemic may be having an effect on mental health. Previous KFF analysis of the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey from earlier this year shows the economic downturn has led to mental health issues and increased substance abuse in the U.S.. The analysis also found school closures and lack of childcare had an even larger impact on parents with children in their home under the age of 18 who either have transitioned to working from home during the pandemic or have been required to go into work throughout the pandemic. This analysis from the March KFF COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor finds that those hardest hit by the mental health impacts of the coronavirus pandemic have been younger people and women, including mothers.

Who Is Experiencing Mental Health Impacts?

In the first few months of the coronavirus pandemic, the share of U.S. adults who said worry and stress related to the coronavirus was having a negative impact on their mental health increased from about one-third (32%) in March 2020 to roughly half (53%) in July 2020. With the end of the pandemic in sight as millions of Americans are getting vaccinated against the disease, the mental health impact seems to have leveled off. The March 2021 KFF COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor finds that about half of adults (47%) continue to report negative mental health impacts related to worry or stress from the pandemic.

Younger adults and women, including mothers with children under 18 years old in their households, are among the most likely to report that stress and worry related to coronavirus has had a negative impact on their mental health. Nearly half of Black adults (49%), White adults (48%), and about four in ten Hispanic adults (43%) say the coronavirus has had a negative impact on their mental health, including three in ten Black adults (31%) and one-fourth of White (23%) and Hispanic (25%) adults who say it has had a “major impact”. Smaller shares of adults ages 65 and older and men (including fathers with children in the home) say they have experienced mental health impact from the coronavirus. It is notable that some previous studies have shown that men, older adults, and Black adults may be less likely to report mental health difficulty and more likely to face challenges accessing mental health care.

More than half of women overall (55%) report a negative impact on their mental health related to the coronavirus pandemic, compared to about four in ten men (38%) who report the same. While a larger share of women across age groups under age 65 report a negative impact on their mental health, the youngest group of men and women are most likely to report negative mental health impacts, compared to their older counterparts. Nearly seven in ten women ages 18 to 29 (69%) report a negative impact on their mental health.

Experience With COVID-19 Related Deaths

Direct experience with COVID-19 has a role in reported mental health impacts of the pandemic. The March 2021 KFF COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor finds one in four (24%) U.S. adults report having a close friend or family member who has died of complications related to COVID-19. An additional 12% say they have someone less directly connected to them who has died, and about six in ten (63%) say they do not know anyone who has died of COVID-19.

Among those with the closest connections to a COVID-19 related death (having a close friend or family member who died), three in ten say stress related to coronavirus has had a “major impact” on their mental health. Smaller shares of those who do not know anyone who has died from complications related to COVID-19 say their mental health has been impacted in a major way (23%). Half of those who know someone close who has died, or indirectly, say their mental health has been impacted in at least a minor way (53% each), while more than four in ten who have not had a personal experience with knowing someone who has died say the same (44%).

Worries About Getting Sick

One potential contributor to negative mental health impacts may be the fear of contracting COVID-19 or having a family member get sick from the disease. When asked how worried they are they or someone in their family will get sick from COVID-19, some of the same groups that are most likely to report negative mental health impacts are also the most likely to report being worried, including women, and younger adults.

A relationship between worry and self-reported mental health impacts is also evident. Among those who say they are either “very worried” or “somewhat worried” they or a family member will get sick from coronavirus, six in ten (61%) say worry or stress has had a negative impact on their mental health. This is compared to two-thirds of those who say they are either “not too worried” or “not at all” worried about their family getting sick who say that stress has not negatively impacted their mental health regarding the pandemic.

Access To Mental Health Care In The Pandemic

Many adults who reported worsened mental health due the pandemic also report forgoing mental health treatment. About one third (32%) of those who reported a negative impact on their mental health (representing 15% of all adults) say there was a time in the past year where they thought they might need mental health services or medication but did not get them. Nearly half of mothers (46%) who report a negative mental health impact due to the pandemic (27% of all mothers) say they did not get mental health care that they needed. In addition, about one in five adults under age 50, Black adults and women say they have experienced worsened mental health due to the pandemic and have not gotten mental health services or medication they thought they might need.

Access to providers and affordability appear to be the biggest barriers for those who felt they needed mental health care because of the pandemic but did not receive them. One in four adults who did not get the mental health care say the main reason why was because they could not find a provider (24%) or could not afford the cost (23%). An additional one in five (18%) say they were too busy or could not get the time off work to receive treatment. One in ten say they had problems with insurance covering their treatment while 5% said they were afraid or embarrassed to seek treatment.



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