The U.S. is currently experiencing a dramatic increase 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 our first post in a three-part series, we explore what healthcare professionals have experienced in their own practices over the course of the pandemic. Our next post will cover findings from our claims data analysis and explore what they add to the story of our nation’s mental health.
Over the past year, we have come to understand many of the physical health consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. Though the mental and behavioral health implications are less clear, it is evident that the pandemic has taken—and will continue to take—a toll on individuals’ health and well-being.
A recent study showed that during the pandemic, four out of ten adults living in the United States reported symptoms of anxiety or depression, up from one in 10 in 2019. This aligns with what healthcare professionals are seeing among their own patients. An Anthem survey of more than 500 behavioral health specialists, primary care physicians, and general practitioners found nearly unanimous agreement (99%) that COVID-19 has introduced new behavioral health challenges for patients.
Eighty-four percent of surveyed professionals reported that since the beginning of the pandemic, they’d seen an increase in the volume of patients they believe required behavioral health services. These conditions range from anxiety and depression to prescription drug abuse and thoughts of suicide.
Behavioral health concerns health professionals report treating more frequently than before the onset of COVID-19.
These concerning trends are leading clinicians to predict that COVID-19 will have behavioral health consequences that extend well beyond the pandemic. Nearly 75% of professionals believe that negative mental health effects will linger for up to three years or longer after the pandemic subsides. If these providers are correct, that means that the need for increased behavioral health services will only compound over time. This is especially relevant because professionals identified the youngest generations—Gen Z and Millennials—as the groups who will experience the most significant short-term and long-term behavioral health impacts of the pandemic.
While our research, analyzed alongside data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO), reflects current trends concerning the pandemic’s effect on our mental health, they aren’t definitive regarding the long-term impact. We do know, however, that past traumatic events have had marked effects on long-term mental health. For example, the SARS outbreak in 2003 led to a 30 percent increase in suicides for people older than 65. And in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, mental health challenges such as psychological distress and PTSD lingered for five years for those who lost their homes during the disaster.
As we prepare for the demand of future behavioral healthcare needs, Anthem will continue to use a whole-health approach to address behavioral healthcare with the goals of strengthening and improving care and outcomes, so we can address the challenges of today and tomorrow and improve lives in the communities we serve.