Once COVID-19 is tamed, Fauci is worried about a looming mental health crisis

Dr. Anthony Fauci standing at podium during COVID-19 briefing; Fauci is worried about the country's mental health
Photo via Trump White House Archived/Flickr (Public Domain)

As COVID-19 infections decline and more Americans get vaccinated, health experts are preparing for the next potential “pandemic”—a mental health pandemic. 

The American Psychological Association (APA) released poll results on March 11—exactly one year after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic—indicating that a mental health crisis is looming. 

The poll found that for many Americans “physical health may be declining due to an inability to cope in healthy ways with the stresses of the pandemic.” These issues primarily affect essential workers, Black Americans, Gen Z, and parents. 

The key findings from the poll include: 

  • A majority of adults (61%) reported undesired weight changes since the start of the pandemic. 
  • Two in 3 Americans (67%) said they are sleeping more or less than they wanted to since the pandemic started. 
  • Nearly 1 in 4 adults (23%) reported drinking more alcohol to cope with their stress during the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Nearly half of parents (48%) said the level of stress in their life has increased compared with before the pandemic.
  • Essential workers were more than twice as likely as those who are not to have received treatment from a mental health professional (34% vs. 12%) and to have been diagnosed with a mental health disorder since the coronavirus pandemic started (25% vs. 9%).
  • Black Americans were most likely (57%) to report feelings of concern about the future. 
  • Gen Z adults (46%) were the most likely generation to say that their mental health has worsened since before the pandemic. 

“These reported health impacts signal many adults may be having difficulties managing stressors, including grief and trauma, and are likely to lead to significant, long-term individual and societal consequences, including chronic illness and additional strain on the nation’s health care system,” the APA concluded. 

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top disease expert, told CBS News that he finds the APA’s findings troubling. 

“That’s the reason why I want to get the virological aspect of this pandemic behind us as quickly as we possibly can,” Fauci said. “Because the long-term ravages of this are so multifaceted.” 

Fauci noted other troubling side effects of the pandemic. These include the state of the economy, long-term COVID-19 sufferers, and those who stopped seeking treatment for other health problems. Nearly half of Americans (47%) said they delayed or canceled health care services during the pandemic.

“I hope we don’t see an increase in some preventable situations, which would not have happened if people had the normal access to medical care, which clearly was interrupted by the shutdown associated with COVID-19,” Fauci said. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a guide on its website detailing how to cope with mental health stress during COVID-19. The CDC recommends taking breaks from watching, reading, or listening to the news; taking care of your body; making time to unwind; communicating with others, and connecting with your community or faith-based organizations.

Sources: APA, CBS News, CDC

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