What is already known about this topic?
Communities have faced mental health challenges related to COVID-19–associated morbidity, mortality, and mitigation activities.
What is added by this report?
During June 24–30, 2020, U.S. adults reported considerably elevated adverse mental health conditions associated with COVID-19. Younger adults, racial/ethnic minorities, essential workers, and unpaid adult caregivers reported having experienced disproportionately worse mental health outcomes, increased substance use, and elevated suicidal ideation.
What are the implications for public health practice?
The public health response to the COVID-19 pandemic should increase intervention and prevention efforts to address associated mental health conditions. Community-level efforts, including health communication strategies, should prioritize young adults, racial/ethnic minorities, essential workers, and unpaid adult caregivers.
The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has been associated with mental health challenges related to the morbidity and mortality caused by the disease and to mitigation activities, including the impact of physical distancing and stay-at-home orders.* Symptoms of anxiety disorder and depressive disorder increased considerably in the United States during April–June of 2020, compared with the same period in 2019 (1,2). To assess mental health, substance use, and suicidal ideation during the pandemic, representative panel surveys were conducted among adults aged ≥18 years across the United States during June 24–30, 2020. Overall, 40.9% of respondents reported at least one adverse mental or behavioral health condition, including symptoms of anxiety disorder or depressive disorder (30.9%), symptoms of a trauma- and stressor-related disorder (TSRD) related to the pandemic† (26.3%), and having started or increased substance use to cope with stress or emotions related to COVID-19 (13.3%). The percentage of respondents who reported having seriously considered suicide in the 30 days before completing the survey (10.7%) was significantly higher among respondents aged 18–24 years (25.5%), minority racial/ethnic groups (Hispanic respondents [18.6%], non-Hispanic black [black] respondents [15.1%]), self-reported unpaid caregivers for adults§ (30.7%), and essential workers¶ (21.7%). Community-level intervention and prevention efforts, including health communication strategies, designed to reach these groups could help address various mental health conditions associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.
During June 24–30, 2020, a total of 5,412 (54.7%) of 9,896 eligible invited adults** completed web-based surveys†† administered by Qualtrics.§§ The Monash University Human Research Ethics Committee of Monash University (Melbourne, Australia) reviewed and approved the study protocol on human subjects research. Respondents were informed of the study purposes and provided electronic consent before commencement, and investigators received anonymized responses. Participants included 3,683 (68.1%) first-time respondents and 1,729 (31.9%) respondents who had completed a related survey during April 2–8, May 5–12, 2020, or both intervals; 1,497 (27.7%) respondents participated during all three intervals (2,3). Quota sampling and survey weighting were employed to improve cohort representativeness of the U.S. population by gender, age, and race/ethnicity.¶¶ Symptoms of anxiety disorder and depressive disorder were assessed using the four-item Patient Health Questionnaire*** (4), and symptoms of a COVID-19–related TSRD were assessed using the six-item Impact of Event Scale††† (5). Respondents also reported whether they had started or increased substance use to cope with stress or emotions related to COVID-19 or seriously considered suicide in the 30 days preceding the survey.§§§
Analyses were stratified by gender, age, race/ethnicity, employment status, essential worker status, unpaid adult caregiver status, rural-urban residence classification,¶¶¶ whether the respondent knew someone who had positive test results for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, or who had died from COVID-19, and whether the respondent was receiving treatment for diagnosed anxiety, depression, or posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) at the time of the survey. Comparisons within subgroups were evaluated using Poisson regressions with robust standard errors to calculate prevalence ratios, 95% confidence intervals (CIs), and p-values to evaluate statistical significance (α = 0.005 to account for multiple comparisons). Among the 1,497 respondents who completed all three surveys, longitudinal analyses of the odds of incidence**** of symptoms of adverse mental or behavioral health conditions by essential worker and unpaid adult caregiver status were conducted on unweighted responses using logistic regressions to calculate unadjusted and adjusted†††† odds ratios (ORs), 95% CI, and p-values (α = 0.05). The statsmodels package in Python (version 3.7.8; Python Software Foundation) was used to conduct all analyses.
Overall, 40.9% of 5,470 respondents who completed surveys during June reported an adverse mental or behavioral health condition, including those who reported symptoms of anxiety disorder or depressive disorder (30.9%), those with TSRD symptoms related to COVID-19 (26.3%), those who reported having started or increased substance use to cope with stress or emotions related to COVID-19 (13.3%), and those who reported having seriously considered suicide in the preceding 30 days (10.7%) (Table 1). At least one adverse mental or behavioral health symptom was reported by more than one half of respondents who were aged 18–24 years (74.9%) and 25–44 years (51.9%), of Hispanic ethnicity (52.1%), and who held less than a high school diploma (66.2%), as well as those who were essential workers (54.0%), unpaid caregivers for adults (66.6%), and who reported treatment for diagnosed anxiety (72.7%), depression (68.8%), or PTSD (88.0%) at the time of the survey.
Prevalences of symptoms of adverse mental or behavioral health conditions varied significantly among subgroups (Table 2). Suicidal ideation was more prevalent among males than among females. Symptoms of anxiety disorder or depressive disorder, COVID-19–related TSRD, initiation of or increase in substance use to cope with COVID-19–associated stress, and serious suicidal ideation in the previous 30 days were most commonly reported by persons aged 18–24 years; prevalence decreased progressively with age. Hispanic respondents reported higher prevalences of symptoms of anxiety disorder or depressive disorder, COVID-19–related TSRD, increased substance use, and suicidal ideation than did non-Hispanic whites (whites) or non-Hispanic Asian (Asian) respondents. Black respondents reported increased substance use and past 30-day serious consideration of suicide in the previous 30 days more commonly than did white and Asian respondents. Respondents who reported treatment for diagnosed anxiety, depression, or PTSD at the time of the survey reported higher prevalences of symptoms of adverse mental and behavioral health conditions compared with those who did not. Symptoms of a COVID-19–related TSRD, increased substance use, and suicidal ideation were more prevalent among employed than unemployed respondents, and among essential workers than nonessential workers. Adverse conditions also were more prevalent among unpaid caregivers for adults than among those who were not, with particularly large differences in increased substance use (32.9% versus 6.3%) and suicidal ideation (30.7% versus 3.6%) in this group.
Longitudinal analysis of responses of 1,497 persons who completed all three surveys revealed that unpaid caregivers for adults had a significantly higher odds of incidence of adverse mental health conditions compared with others (Table 3). Among those who did not report having started or increased substance use to cope with stress or emotions related to COVID-19 in May, unpaid caregivers for adults had 3.33 times the odds of reporting this behavior in June (adjusted OR 95% CI = 1.75–6.31; p<0.001). Similarly, among those who did not report having seriously considered suicide in the previous 30 days in May, unpaid caregivers for adults had 3.03 times the odds of reporting suicidal ideation in June (adjusted OR 95% CI = 1.20–7.63; p = 0.019).