The Implications of Mental Health Stigma in the Wake of COVID-19

The World Health Organization estimates that by 2030 depressive disorders will be the leading cause of the global burden of disease.  According to leading scientists at The World Health Organization, “depression is estimated to affect 350 million people.  The World Health Mental Health Survey conducted in 17 countries found that 1 in 20 people reported having an episode of depression in the previous year.” 

These statistics were gathered at a time before anyone could foresee Covid or the implications it would have on the sobriety and mental health of a global population.

In data extrapolated by the U.S. Census Bureau Household Pulse Survey, KFF’s study reported that the average share of adults reporting symptoms of anxiety disorder and/or depressive disorder went from 11% in 2019 to 41% in 2021. The study further notes that among young adults (18-24 years old), 26% reported suicidal ideation and 25% reported substance abuse.

According to the same study by KFF, Adults age 65+ are at the lowest end of reporting symptoms of Anxiety and/or Depressive Disorder at 29.3% – yet are considered among the highest risk group for severe complications, illness, and deaths from COVID-19. Are younger people at a higher risk for developing suicidal ideation or is there a less likely chance that older generations will report depressive and/or anxiety symptoms out of fear of the stigma surrounding mental health?

Reports from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that 80% of the deaths from COVID-19 occur in those over the age of 65.  The strategic measures are taken to stop the spread of the virus during the pandemic – such as social distancing, avoiding events and get-togethers, and isolation has increased the mental health burden of COVID-19.  Some of the mental health ramifications for older generations in the wake of the pandemic include loss of socialization, loss of a support network, mental stress and anxiety, the digital divide limiting means of access to healthcare, and a decrease in exercise.

According to a medical report entitled, “The Impact of Epidemic Outbreak: The Case of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and suicide among older adults in Hong Kong” there was a severe increase in elderly suicide rates during the SARS pandemic. This furthers shows how a pandemic can trigger new and pre-existing mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, and contribute immensely to suicidal ideation – especially in the most vulnerable elderly population.