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Americans are more likely to report mental health concerns related to the pandemic than other developed countries, survey finds

Bethany Ao, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in Health & Fitness

As the United States works to stop rising coronavirus case numbers, behavioral health professionals warn that mental health will continue to deteriorate as a result of the pandemic.

Between March and May, one-third of Americans reported experiencing stress, anxiety and sadness that was difficult to cope with by themselves, according to a survey published this week by the Commonwealth Fund, a foundation focused on promoting a high performing health care system, and Social Science Research Solutions, a market and survey research firm. The survey, which interviewed 8,259 adults in the U.S. and abroad, found that when compared to other high-income countries such as Canada, Australia and France, the rate at which Americans experienced mental health symptoms was significantly higher.

Researchers suggested that the country's lack of universal health insurance coverage, financial difficulties and leadership response to the pandemic has negatively affected the mental well-being of Americans.

The findings reflect a similar report released in May by the American Psychological Association, which found that 70% of Americans cited the government response to COVID-19 as a significant source of stress. The same percentage of respondents said that the economy was a significant source of stress.

Donna Sudak, professor of psychiatry at Drexel University College of Medicine, said that while it's important to recognize the toll the virus has taken is greater here than in some other countries included in the survey, there are cultural customs that can make coping harder for Americans as well.

"We're a country that is accustomed to a lot of independence and the ability to be autonomous," Sudak said. "Many people have a sense of well-being when they can go anywhere they want to. We're accustomed to the escape value of that, and now that's gone."

 

The survey also found that despite heightened mental health symptoms, Americans are less likely to receive care during the pandemic -- just 1 in 3 adults reported being able to get help from a professional, compared with 1 in 2 adults in Australia and Canada.

Eric Schneider, the senior vice president for policy and research at the Commonwealth Fund and an author of the report, said that could be because other countries are more likely to provide citizens with access to a trusted source of primary care.

"Primary care is often the first point of contact for people with mental health concerns," Schneider said. "It is the main source of care for common mental health problems like depression and anxiety."

Sudak also said Americans may hesitate to seek help because mental health care is not covered the same way other forms of health care are by insurers.

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