Most of the attention paid to the impact of COVID-19 has focused on the health risks. More than 1 million people have contracted the disease in the U.S., and tens of thousands of Americans people have died while the world anxiously waits for effective treatments and a vaccine.
A new study spotlights another threat: a spike in the number of people with post-traumatic stress symptoms.
A survey in late April of more than 2,000 adults by a San Diego State University researcher using standard measures of mental health found striking evidence of widespread mental distress. When compared with results from a 2018 survey of nearly 20,000 demographically similar people, the 2020 participants were eight times more likely to screen positive for mental illness.
Some people are suffering more than others. The survey found those between ages 18 and 44 showed a tenfold increase in mental distress compared with the 2018 results, while adults 60 and over showed the smallest increases.
The reason may be rooted in economics. While older adults are more at risk for their health, younger adults are more likely to have lost their jobs. Many were in a precarious financial position even before the pandemic hit.
It came as no surprise that people who faced this new, deadly disease would be traumatized as the number of infections skyrocketed. Nationwide, calls to mental health hotlines have surged in recent months.
While such an increase in anxiety and psychological trauma may be expected during the initial stages of the outbreak, the takeaway is that mental health providers should expect a different wave once the pandemic recedes: a tremendous demand for counseling.