CDC says mental health challenges and substance use are going up due to pandemic

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- A new report from the CDC shows more than 40% of U.S. adults have faced at least one type of serious mental health challenge as a result of the pandemic.

According to the latest Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), nearly 31% of survey respondents reported symptoms of anxiety or depression during the last week of June. Meanwhile, 26% reported symptoms of trauma and stressor-related disorder (TSRD) related to the pandemic, and 13% reported starting or increasing substance use to cope with stress related to COVID-19.

The survey included more than 5,400 adults who were asked about their mental health between June 24-30.

Nearly one in 10 of respondents had serious thoughts of suicide in the last 30 days. Around 25% of adults ages 18-24 had serious thoughts of suicide compared to 18.6% of Hispanic respondents, 15.1% of non-Hispanic black respondents, 30.7% of unpaid adult caregivers, and 21.7% of essential workers.

Experts say mental health issues are also increasing among adults in Texas.

"We're seeing people talk about isolation, about past trauma, clearly coronavirus, but then also the typical things that we experience as humans, [such as] the current news, relationship problems, financial problems, and grief and not just grief of the loss of loved ones, but also grief of our routines," explained Lauren Pursley, a training specialist at Mental Health America Greater Houston. "So there's a great deal of stress and strain going on right now, and I think people are becoming very aware of that."

According to MHAGH, nearly 7,000 people a day took one of its mental health screenings in May and June.

Anxiety screenings were 400% higher in June compared to January, and depression screenings were 457% higher. In June, more than 25,000 people screened for depression also reported thoughts of suicide or self-harm either daily or every other day.

Loneliness and isolation was cited the most by people experiencing severe depression and anxiety. Racism and current events were also contributing factors for thousands of those who were screened that are suffering mental health issues.

"It's very important that when we are having these very open conversations about mental health we are normalizing it, because a great portion of the population is dealing with that, and then we can talk about strategies that can help people as we continue through this situation," Pursley said. "When people experience traumatic events together they can connect and express what they're feeling and they can have time to really be with each other that can help immensely. Having that trusted relationship is so important right now."

Pursley said adopting daily routines can also help people struggling to adjust to the pandemic.

"I think it's really going to be important to rebuild those routines in our lives, whether that's a day-to-day routines, 'This is how I get up in the morning' and 'This is how I work from home,'" but also kind of global routines, 'This is how I celebrate holidays when I can't be around my family,'" she explained.

The CDC says community level efforts and health strategies to address these mental health conditions should prioritize young adults, racial/ethnic minorities, essential workers, and unpaid adult caregivers.

If you or someone you know is in emotional distress or having thoughts of suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

MHAGH also has a list of resources for people experiencing a mental health crisis or substance abuse you can fine here.

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