Experts say improved early intervention services needed to address mental health crisis

MADISON, Wis. — The pandemic highlighted a lot of widespread issues in the U.S., including the need for mental health care.

According to a study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, mental health declined for many people during the pandemic.

Roughly 25% of adult respondents reported symptoms of an anxiety disorder in June 2020 compared to 8.1% in the second quarter of 2019. The number of adults experiencing depressive disorders also rose during the same period, rising to 24.3% from 6.5% in 2019.

The CDC study also showed that communities of color were disproportionally impacted.

Dr. Beth Lonergan, director, Behavioral Health Services, UW Health said experts attribute the rise to stressors like social isolation, fear of job loss, economic stress, concerns about getting sick, domestic violence and more.

“Impacts on mental health treatment like access challenges, workforce shortage, concerns regarding untreated behavioral health issues and lack of focus on prevention – including building resilience in people – have been years in the making,” Lonergan said. “Now that more people are seeking care, the health care system must respond.”

The pandemic also saw a rise in substance abuse as people struggled to cope with the stress and uncertainty. Overdose deaths in the U.S. hit a record high of 93,000 in 2020.

Lonegran said that while it will take time to build up access to mental health care, telehealth could play a pivotal role in expanding care and early intervention.

“Making our society better equipped to cope with challenges when they arise, like the trauma of isolation in a pandemic, or the shock of a natural disaster or mass shooting, will be a future facet of public health,” Lonergan said. “And, early intervention when needed can spare the public health system cost and access, but more importantly, reduce the suffering of those impacted.”