COVID-19 cases are letting up, but mental health effects here to stay, experts worry

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Financial stress, loss of a loved one and social isolation are just a few of the reasons behind an uptick in the number of people experiencing mental health issues amid the COVID-19 pandemic, experts say, and while infections continue to dwindle, the mental health effects may linger, NBC News reported May 19.

"I'm very concerned about the effects being long-term," said Luana Marques, PhD, associate professor of psychology at Boston-based Harvard Medical School. "Given that — consistently, globally — you've seen the levels of depression and anxiety high since last March, that tells me that we're going to see an increasing prevalence of mental health [problems] globally," she told NBC News. 

Throughout the pandemic, a growing body of research has indicated a surge in the number of people experiencing mental health issues. A CDC report published in March, for example, found the percentage of people who reported experiencing symptoms of anxiety or depression in the last seven days rose from about 36 percent to 42 percent between August 2020 and February 2021. 

A separate study found depression rates more than tripled from about 8.5 percent of the general population before the pandemic to 27.8 percent during it, according to findings published in JAMA Network Open and cited by the news outlet. 

Pointing to prior trauma-related research, experts worry that for some, these mental health consequences could persist for years. 

A study involving 36,897 New York residents and rescue workers found that 14 percent were still experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms 15 years after the 9/11 attacks, according to findings published in Environmental Health, NBC News reports. 

The longer mental health issues are unaddressed, the more likely they'll have long-lasting effects, Michael Zvolensky, PhD, a psychology professor at the University of Houston told the news outlet, stressing the importance of providing adequate resources to subsets of the population most impacted by the pandemic, such as communities of color. 

Adequately addressing mental health is twofold, experts said. It involves both access to mental health care services and a sense of financial security. 

"You can't address emotional health if your basic needs are not met," Dr. Marques told NBC News. 

 

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