The U.S. is currently experiencing a dramatic rise in behavioral health needs, in large part due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We are committed to listening to those on the front lines of the pandemic and analyzing our own data to deepen our understanding of the communities we serve. As part of these efforts, we recently released an inaugural report, State of the Nation’s Mental Health, which is based on an analysis of more than 27 million healthcare claims and a nationwide clinician survey. In the final post of our three-part series, we explore the ways in which the pandemic could be changing long-held beliefs about behavioral health. Click to read Part 1 and Part 2.
In 2019, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reported that one in five adults in the U.S—more than 50 million individuals—experienced mental illness. This was before the country saw a dramatic spike in behavioral health issues due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and over half of adults saw negative impacts on their mental health due to worry or stress related to the pandemic. This trend is underscored by a recent study that showed during the pandemic, four out of ten adults living in the U.S. reported symptoms of anxiety or depression, a 150% increase since 2019.
Despite the prevalence of behavioral health issues, stigma around mental illness and substance use disorders has historically been a barrier to care for many people. Nearly one-third of individuals in the U.S. worry about being judged by others because they seek mental health services. And there is greater stigma around mental health and treatment in some minority communities, which affects whether individuals may seek care.
However, the pandemic may be changing the way we think about mental health. An Anthem survey of more than 500 behavioral health specialists, primary care physicians, and general practitioners revealed that nine out of ten surveyed clinicians said that COVID-19 has made them more aware of the mental health conditions their patients are experiencing. What’s more, 70% feel their patients have been more willing to proactively bring up behavioral health issues during appointments over the past year. In this way, it seems that the pandemic is changing the way many Americans view mental health.
Healthcare professionals seem to agree, with 97% saying that COVID-19 has raised awareness of the importance of mental health. This is important not only because mental health is a key part of whole health, but also because lack of awareness and stigma around mental health and substance use disorders have long been barriers for people seeking appropriate treatment. And many clinicians believe that treatment options like counseling and group therapy equip individuals with the tools they need to handle mental health challenges: 60% believe that people who sought these options prior to the start of the pandemic have more successfully coped with mental health challenges associated with COVID-19. Conversely, 38% believe that individuals who had never sought out treatment options are now experiencing a greater increase of mental health issues since the beginning of the pandemic.
In light of all of the economic, social, and health challenges posed by COVID-19, it is encouraging that individuals are becoming more open to discussing behavioral health. This is especially important because behavioral health is a key component of whole health that impacts nearly every aspect of our day-to-day lives. Anthem is committed to ensuring the whole health of the millions we serve, and we will continue to provide the education, resources, and support communities need to achieve their best health.