I am amazed how many people talk about returning to normalcy as the pandemic persists with new variants materializing. Normalcy? I am confident globally businesses will rebound, travel will make a comeback as borders open when vaccination rates strengthen, but I am concerned about the future mental health of humanity.
Disclaimer: I am not a mental health expert, but as a food marketer I do study human behavior beyond consumerism thanks to my business’s trend spotting services. I believe the stress/anxiety connected to the pandemic – death, illness, isolation, economic/vocational hardship, educational transformation will adversely impact mental health. Consequently, I decided to conduct some research to validate my hypothesis to write a blog post. I learned the National Center for Health Statistics aligned with the Census Bureau to collect relevant information about the impact of the pandemic in the U.S. – the Household Pulse Survey is tracking data on the frequency of anxiety and depression symptoms. Key findings:
- The survey first reported in July of 2020 approximately half (53%) of the respondents revealed the pandemic negatively impacted their mental health. In the survey’s last update conducted early in 2021, negative mental health related to stress or worry of the pandemic leveled off to 47%. Note: A recent independent poll conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health found 50 percent of households reported someone experiencing serious problems with depression, anxiety, stress or sleep disorder.
- More than half of women (55%) reported a negative impact, 69% of women ages 18 to 29
- 38% of the male participants in the survey reported mental health difficulty.
- Overall, 24% of U.S. adults reported having a family member or close friend who died of COVID-19 related complications of which three out of ten of these people indicated their mental health was seriously impaired; 53% of this subset said their mental health was impacted in a minor way. Six in ten people indicated they did not have a personal connection. However, 44% revealed their mental health was impacted in a minor way.
Help! The survey also queried whether people sought mental health care. Most responded access to providers and affordability were their biggest barriers. One out of four adults who did not get mental health care indicated they could not find a provider (24%) or could not afford (23%) the cost (note: 10% claimed inadequate insurance coverage). A significant number of the survey respondents (18%) said they were too busy or get time off from work; 5% were afraid or embarrassed to seek treatment.
Candidly I find these survey statistics alarming. What will mental health for these people be like in a few years if they are not treated? One more major caveat. The survey was conducted among adults 18 years and older. What about the mental health of little people, especially those connected to someone who died of COVID-19 related complications?
Back in June I addressed the topic of mental health and questioned if there will be enough affordable mental health professionals, therapists and psychiatrists in the future to help us cope with a COVID world. One of my loyal followers wrote: “the answer is No! …. There aren’t nearly enough now.” Will technology be a potential solution for mental health care if we do not have enough affordable mental health professionals to help people with pandemic related mental health issues? Specifically, Emotional Artificial Intelligence (EAI)– “cognitive computing” designed to collect, analyze and respond to human emotions and simulate human thoughts. The EAI data and situations will be utilized to simulate human thought. Automated therapy is still evolving. Will mental health care professional be able to develop the scheme of algorithms for a COVID World, a topic I plan to explore in a future post.