Newswise — More than two years after the COVID-19 pandemic, behavioral health concerns continue to disrupt Americans’ lives, and addressing these concerns should be a major priority, according to a new study from the Tulane University School of Social Work.
Recently published in the magazine Scientific Reports Research by Patrick Burdenick, dean of the School of Social Work, and Tonya Hansel, a disaster mental health expert who oversees the school’s doctoral program, says that despite vaccinations and deregulation, mental health issues remain a serious concern as the pandemic enters recovery.
“We found increased anxiety, depression, and alcohol abuse, and that the pandemic exacerbated previous problems,” Hansel said.
“While many look forward to their new normal lifestyle or return to their pre-pandemic lifestyle, the ongoing threat and uncertainties related to vaccines and strain diversity serve as cautionary reminders that the global pandemic continues,” she said. “No matter how long a full recovery takes, more than a year of heightened fear, loneliness, economic consequences, and grief suggest that behavioral health will have long-term consequences.”
In addition to Hansel and Bordnick, other team members include Leah Saltzman, associate professor of social work; Pamela Melton, Professor of Practice; and Tanesha Clark, licensed clinical social worker.
The researchers surveyed Americans from more than 30 states and represent a wide range of ages, races, educational backgrounds, and income levels. Although more than a quarter of respondents reported having mental health problems before the pandemic, mental health challenges during the pandemic rose to 33 percent.
Anxiety increased by 47 percent, while depression increased by 9 percent. The respondents also reported an 8 percent increase in alcohol misuse.
More than a third of respondents reported COVID-19 experiences such as social isolation, working from home, loss of income, and out-of-school children and teens. Participants who noted social isolation and personal health effects had higher anxiety and depression and lower quality of life. Participants with suspected or diagnosed COVID-19 reported more alcohol use and lower quality of life.
Survey data came early in the pandemic, and Hansel said Americans still struggle with the mental health challenges associated with it.
“We’re seeing problems now and we’re going to see more behavioral health issues for years to come,” Bordnick said. “Relapse rates are increasing and new cases are increasing every day.”
Hansel agreed. “In mental health disasters, when the threat has dissipated and individuals are out of survival mode, behavioral health problems become more apparent, and thus, services, such as psychoeducation, therapy, and short therapies are needed.”
“Before the pandemic, we had a shortage of mental health workers. Now that the need has increased, the shortage is becoming more serious.” We hope that this data will raise awareness about the urgent need to fund accessible behavioral health services to meet existing needs. in addition to the emerging stress and anxiety related to the pandemic.”
The study says there is an “urgent need” to improve behavioral health services, including brief interventions to normalize symptoms, raise awareness of risk factors and teach coping skills.
The study also suggests that the gains made in telehealth over the past year could continue and increase access to mental health services.
“At this point in a disaster, more intensive treatments should also be made available, especially for those who show specific risk factors, such as young and middle-aged adults, those with limited incomes and pre-existing behavioral health problems, and those who live in communities,” Bordenick said.