In a new “Stress in America” report, researchers for the American Psychological Association (APA) have found that the pandemic and the lockdowns are causing with impacts to individuals’ physical and mental health. Researchers say that the impacts will persist past the physical threat of the virus.
High levels of stress reported by Americans is seriously affecting mental and physical health,
including weight gain, sleep issues and alcohol use, noted the report authors.
Adults affected most seriously included 18 to 24-yearolds, essential workers, people of color, and parents.
According to the report, Generation Z adults were the most likely group to say that their mental health has worsened compared with before the pandemic, with 46% of this group endorsing
items showing that they felt the stress.
This age group was followed by Generation Xers at 33%, and the Millennials at 31%. The Baby Boomers fell at 28%.
Older adults, over age 76, were the least affected with only 9% declaring a stress-related problem due to the pandemic. Ironically, this group is the group that is most at risk for direct danger from the virus.
The report’s authors said that these conditions are likely to “lead to significant, long-term individual and societal consequences, including chronic illness and additional strain on the nation’s health care system.”
One major finding was weight gain. A majority of adults, 61%, reported experiencing unwanted weight changes since the start of the pandemic, with 42% saying they gained more weight than they intended. Of this group, individuals reported gaining an average of 29 pounds. The typical
gain was 15 pounds, which is the median, according to the researchers.
Another finding pointed to sleep problems. According to researchers, “Two in 3 Americans (67%) said they are sleeping more or less than they wanted to since the pandemic started. similar proportions reported less (35%) and more (31%) sleep than desired.”
Almost one fourth, 23%, of those surveyed reported that they were drinking more alcohol to cope with their stress during the pandemic.
And almost half of Americans, 47%, said that they had postponed or ignored otherwise scheduled health care services because of the the pandemic.
Parents have been hit particularly hard. “Nearly half of parents (48%) said the level of stress in their life has increased compared with before the pandemic. More than 3 in 5 parents with children who are still home for remote learning (62%) said the same.”
“Essential workers were more than twice as likely as those who are not to have received treatment from a mental health professional (34% vs. 12%) and to have been diagnosed
with a mental health disorder since the coronavirus pandemic started (25% vs. 9%).
“Black Americans were most likely to report feelings of concern about the future. More
than half said they feel uneasy about adjusting to in-person interaction once the pandemic ends (57% vs. 51% Asian, 50% Hispanic and 47% white).
Parents have been hit particularly hard. Reporting stress at 62% or the parents with children who are still at home for virtual education. Nearly half of all parents, 48%, said the level of stress in their life has increased compared with before the pandemic.
Researchers also identified essential workers as being at the ground zero of stress. “More than half of essential workers (54%) said they relied on a lot of unhealthy habits to get through the pandemic. Nearly 3 in 10 (29%) said their mental health has worsened. When asked about emotional support, 3 in 4 essential workers (75%) said they could have used more than they
received since the pandemic started. Essential workers were more than twice as likely as those who are not to have received treatment from a mental health professional (34% vs. 12%) and to have been diagnosed with a mental health disorder since the coronavirus pandemic started (25% vs. 9%).”
In a related report of research conducted by Sapien Labs, reported by Batya Swift Yasgur, in “New Data on Worldwide Mental Health Impact of COVID-19,” (Medscape -Mar 15, 2021), researchers studied eight English-speaking countries and 49,000 adults.
Results indicated that 57% of respondents said they have experienced some COVID19-related adversity or trauma. Researchers found that one quarter of those responding showed clinical signs of, or were at risk for a mood disorder. On the other hand, 40% described themselves as
“succeeding or thriving.”
“Those who reported the poorest mental health were young adults and individuals who experienced financial adversity or were unable to receive care for other medical conditions. Nonbinary gender and not getting enough sleep, exercise, or face-to-face socialization also increased the risk for poorer mental well-being.”
“The data suggest that there will be longterm fallout from the pandemic on the mental health front,” Tara Thiagarajan, PhD, Sapien Labs founder and chief scientist, said in a press release.
The survey, which is part of the company’s Mental Health Million project, is an ongoing research initiative that makes data freely available to other researchers. The investigators developed a “free and anonymous assessment tool,” the Mental Health Quotient.
The overall mental well-being score for 2020 was 8% lower than the score obtained in 2019 from the same countries, said the researchers. And, the percentage of respondents who fell into the “clinical” category increased from 14% in 2009 to 26% in 2020.
Residents of Singapore had the highest, most positive MHQ score, followed by residents of the United States. At the other end of the scale, respondents from the United Kingdom and South Africa had the poorest MHQ scores.
The decline in mental well-being was “most pronounced” in persons of the youngest age category (18 – 24 years), whose average MHQ score was 29% lower than those those aged ≥65 years.
Worldwide, 70% of respondents aged ≥65 years fell into the categories of “succeeding” or “thriving,” compared with just 17% of those aged 18 to 24 years. “We saw a massive trend of diminishing mental well-being in younger individuals, suggesting that some societal force is at
play that we need to get to the bottom of,” said Thiagarajan.
“Young people are still learning how to calibrate themselves in the world, and with age comes maturity, leading to a difference in emotional resilience,” she said.
The highest risk group was the nonbinary/third-gender respondents. Among those persons, more than 50% were classified as being at clinical risk. Nonbinary individuals “are universally
doing very poorly, relative to males or females,” said Thiagarajan. “This is s a demographic at very high risk with a lot of suicidal thoughts.”