Covid-19 stresses Americans more than other high-income nations, but only 1 in 3 are able to get help: Report

One-third of US adults reported stress, anxiety, and great sadness that was difficult to cope with by themselves, compared to about a quarter or less in other high-income countries


                            Covid-19 stresses Americans more than other high-income nations, but only 1 in 3 are able to get help: Report
(Getty Images)

The negative impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on mental health has been immediate, and it is certain to have long-term effects in every country it has touched, say experts. As compared to other high-income countries, Americans are not only facing greater mental health and economic challenges due to Covid-19, they are also less likely to get needed mental healthcare during the pandemic, according to a report by the Commonwealth Fund.

One-third (33%) of US adults have experienced stress, anxiety, or great sadness that was difficult to cope with by themselves since the start of the outbreak. This is a significantly higher proportion than in other countries, where no more than one-quarter of adults reported the same. The analysis reveals that the countries with the next highest levels were Canada and the UK, both of which reported 26% of people feeling stressed, anxious, or sad. This was followed by France (24%), Australia (23%), and New Zealand (23%). Norway (10%) reported the lowest level of mental health concerns.

(Commonwealth Fund, August 2020)

“What we learn from this study is that in the US, the pandemic has taken a greater toll on people’s well-being when compared to other high-income countries. As the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases and deaths in the US continues to increase, policymakers — at all levels of government — should look abroad for innovative solutions. There are valuable lessons we can learn, particularly around improving access to mental health services, and addressing socioeconomic needs exacerbated by the pandemic,” explains Reginald D Williams II, lead author of the study and Commonwealth Fund vice president for international health policy and practice innovations.

Globally, the US currently has the highest number of confirmed cases and deaths from Covid-19. As of August 7, 4,882,270 coronavirus cases have been reported from the US and more than 160,090 have died in the pandemic. To examine the early impacts the coronavirus pandemic has had on the well-being of adults in the US and abroad, the Commonwealth Fund contracted SSRS, a survey research firm, to interview nationally representative samples of adults in the US and nine other high-income countries that participate in the Fund’s annual international health policy survey. A total of 8,259 adults were interviewed between March and May 2020.

Among those who needed and wanted to get care to deal with the feelings of stress or anxiety, people in the US and UK were also least likely to be able to get help from a professional when needed. According to the report, 31% of US adults say they were able to get mental healthcare, while the number stands at 32% for people in the UK. In Australia and Canada, 54% and 47% respectively were able to get help from a professional when needed. “Since the pandemic started, just one in three adults in the US and the UK reported being able to get help from a professional when feeling stress, anxiety, or sadness. In contrast, approximately half of Australians and Canadians were able to get needed help,” says the research team. They add, “The findings show that the US can do more to meet people’s mental health care needs. Steps could be taken to improve access to mental health services as well as integrate mental health treatment into primary care. Besides, there is a clear need to expand current efforts to improve the economic security of Americans and address social needs exacerbated by the pandemic.”

According to the survey, Americans were the least likely to have a positive opinion of the national government’s pandemic response. Only 33% of US adults said President Trump has done a “good” or “very good” job of handling the coronavirus pandemic. In other countries, between 49% and 95% of respondents approved of how their president or prime minister has dealt with the crisis. 

“As our country struggles with the surging number of cases and the economic havoc that the pandemic is wreaking, people in other countries are living a different, better, reality. Americans should realize that our country can do better, too. We can start by ensuring everyone can get and afford the healthcare they need, and by implementing public health measures, like mask-wearing, social distancing, and robust testing and tracing that can help us stop Covid-19 as so many other have effectively accomplished,” writes David Blumenthal, Commonwealth Fund president.

(Commonwealth Fund, August 2020)

People in all the countries surveyed appreciated healthcare workers’ response to the pandemic, with 78% to 96% saying that hospitals, nurses, and doctors had done a good or very good job. “The share of people reporting this was significantly lower in Sweden (78%) than elsewhere. Rates were also relatively lower in the US (83%) and Canada (85%). The highest rates were in France and Germany, at 95% and 96%, respectively,” state the findings.

Across the globe, businesses have been forced to shut their doors to limit the spread of the virus, resulting in job losses and economic stagnation that have put hundreds of millions of people at financial risk. While approximately one-quarter of adults in Australia, Canada, and the US reported they had lost a job or source of income, the authors found that just 7% to 8% said the same in France, Germany, and the Netherlands. US adults were significantly more likely than adults in France, Germany, Netherlands, New Zealand, Sweden, and the UK to report losing a job or source of income.

US adults were significantly more likely than adults in France, Germany, Netherlands, New Zealand, Sweden, and the UK to report losing a job or source of income (Getty Images)

Americans were the most likely among survey respondents to report negative economic consequences stemming from Covid-19. More than 30% of US adults reported they have been faced with negative economic effects from the coronavirus pandemic, a significantly higher percentage than in any of the other countries. These effects include being unable to pay for basic necessities like food, heat, or rent, using up most personal savings, or borrowing money or taking out a loan. Rates were also high in Canada (24%) and Australia (21%). However, just 6% to 7% of German and Dutch respondents reported these financial hardships.

The analysis also reveals that 56% of US adults who reported experiencing any negative economic consequences of the pandemic also reported having mental health distress. The pandemic’s economic toll has contributed to higher levels of mental distress in other places as well. In the UK, this number stands at 53%. An estimated 50% each in Australia and Canada, who faced any type of financial problems reported experiencing mental health issues. “In all five countries for which reliable estimates could be calculated, people who said they experienced any type of economic insecurity since the start of the outbreak were several times more likely to also report stress, anxiety, and great sadness that was difficult to cope with alone,” the team explains.

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