Adults, especially those under 24, report pandemic is elevating their stress levels

The coronavirus outbreak, like other pandemics before it, is severely impacting mental health and those effects will likely linger long into the future. A report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found elevated rates of mental health conditions, particularly among young people under 24, racial/ethnic minorities, essential workers and unpaid caregivers. In late June, a survey found 31% of adults experienced anxiety and depression symptoms and 26% had trauma/stressor-related disorder symptoms.



This report was addressed during a panel discussion at the 2020 Alaska State of Reform Virtual Health Policy Conference held Sept. 30. The panel included Sarah M. Alquist, vice president of development for Beacon Health Options, Steve Williams, COO of Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority, Gennifer Moreau, director of the Division of Behavioral Health for DHSS, and Tom Chard, executive director of Alaska Behavioral Health Association.

“Many will suffer from long-term stress disorders, depression, anxiety attacks, insomnia, panic attacks,” said Alquist. “These are all things we are likely to see as we roll out of the pandemic so it’s really critical that we have infrastructure in place to support them immediately.”

Statistics pulled from the report indicate 25.5% of those aged 18 to 24 have seriously considered suicide. The prevalence of anxiety disorders are three times higher than they were in 2019 and the prevalence of depressive disorder is four times higher than it was in 2019.

Studies show there was a rise in suicide rates after the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918-19 and among the elderly after the SARS outbreak in Hong Kong in 2003. In both cases, social factors — such as isolation — influenced the rise in rates. 

“We should be concerned,” Williams said. “We know that the stressors of an economy, the stressors of the virus that we are experiencing, the stressors that are put on families who have to educate their children at home has impacts on jobs and employment all are risk factors for increased mental health issues.”

If there is a positive note, it’s that this crisis is giving us the opportunity to rethink the way we deliver services, particularly through prevention and early interventions, Chard said. 

The pandemic also opened up the debate on how the most vulnerable are treated. 

“Residential treatment providers in the state have had to grapple with how to bring someone into residential treatment if we don’t know what risk they may pose to staff or other residents,” he said. “Wrapped inside that question is an understanding of how we look at potential psychiatric emergencies or a chronic condition in the case of some of our substance abuse facilities.”

The pandemic also brought to the forefront the importance of telehealth and how it can provide access to mental health services when mobility becomes limited. 

“There is a slew of House and Senate bills on this topic,” he said. “I’m hopeful this is going to mean that there are significant improvements to not only our ability to provide telehealth, but also our utilization of it.”