Money Lies at the Heart of Today’s Mental Health Crisis

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May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and it’s a good time to see where the nation stands after enduring more than a year of battering by COVID-19. The major driver behind the huge spike in mental problems, according to a study? Money.
Upper view of stressed middle age business woman at the table.

A September 2020 study by Boston University’s School of Public Health comparing pre- and post-pandemic mental health concluded that “one in four American adults is now likely to be experiencing symptoms of depression, a threefold increase from last year.” The major driver behind the huge spike in mental problems, according to the study? Money.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and it’s a good time to see where the nation stands after enduring more than a year of battering by COVID-19. During this period joblessness has risen sharply and many of our institutions – schools, colleges, social service entities – have struggled to even function. And of course, thousands of families have suffered the loss of loved ones.

Amidst all of the factors influencing one’s mental wellbeing, money stood out. The researchers of the study saw an increase in depression symptoms among all demographic groups, but a key break point was one’s financial situation. “After adjusting for all other factors, the researchers found that, since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, someone with less than $5,000 in savings was 50 percent more likely to have depression symptoms than someone with more than $5,000.” Financial stress often takes a toll on one’s mental and physical health, stress levels, energy, and overall well-being.

Catherine Ettman, the lead author of the study, says she and her colleagues hope the findings will also help those who are experiencing depression see that they are not alone: on the contrary, one in four U.S. adults is going through the same thing.

Reaching out is also encouraged as vital by the National Association on Mental Illness (NAMI). NAMI tabulates that one in five adults experiences mental illness each year and one in six youth ages 6-17 experiences a mental health disorder. Half of all lifetime mental illnesses begin by age 14. NAMI suggests contacting one’s primary doctor or state and local mental health facilities, and the non-profit organization maintains its own helpline.

The impact of the pandemic on mental health has been clear, and the federal COVID-19 relief package assembled in Washington addresses some important areas. The package includes:

  • Nearly $4 billion for state and local mental health and substance use services, school-based mental health programs, and workforce training
  • $140 million in funding to promote mental health among healthcare professionals and first responders
  • Incentives to expand Medicaid coverage, which helps people with mental illness who lack insurance, for the 12 remaining states who have not yet done so
  • More than $26 billion to help people maintain or get housing, including people with serious mental illness experiencing homelessness
  • Additional federal Medicaid funding to expand Mobile Crisis Teams, which help people experiencing mental health crises
  • $420 million for mental health services in the Indian Health Service

It seems certain that even as the U.S. makes progress against COVID-19, including new variants, mental health is going to remain a major challenge for the entire nation. “There is much work to be done to heal our country; work that will continue long after lockdowns are over, and masks tucked away. Trauma can have long-term negative effects on mental health,” says NAMI CEO Daniel H. Gillison, Jr.