Friday, July 2, 2021

Study Reveals Extent of Unmet Need for Mental Health Counseling During Pandemic

More than 1 in 4 American adults who had symptoms of depression or anxiety reported an unmet need for mental health counseling at the end of 2020, a study in Psychiatric Services in Advance has found. Overall, more than 1 in 10 adults in the study reported this unmet need.

“COVID-19 has laid bare the unmet need for mental health counseling that varies across gender and racial lines throughout the adult population,” wrote Jason M. Nagata, M.D., M.Sc., of the University of California, San Francisco, and colleagues.

The researchers analyzed data from approximately 70,000 adults in the Household Pulse Survey, which was conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau and other federal agencies from December 9 to December 21, 2020. The survey aimed to provide data on the social and economic impacts of COVID-19 on adults in the United States. The study incorporated the Patient Health Questionnaire-2 to assess participants for symptoms of depression over the past seven days and an adapted version of the Generalized Anxiety Disorder Scale to assess participants for symptoms of anxiety over the past seven days. Participants then responded “yes” or “no” to the question, “At any time in the last 4 weeks, did you need counseling or therapy from a mental health professional but did not get it for any reason?”

More than 39% of participants had experienced symptoms of depression or anxiety in the past seven days. Of those, more than 25% reported an unmet need for mental health counseling in the past four weeks. Overall, nearly 13% of participants reported an unmet mental health need for counseling in the past four weeks.

Sociodemographic factors associated with higher odds of experiencing an unmet need for mental health counseling included female sex, income below the federal poverty line, higher education, and experiencing job loss during the pandemic. Older participants and participants who identified as Asian, Black, or Hispanic/Latino had lower odds of reporting an unmet need for mental health counseling.

“Despite the social upheaval and mobilization by Black Lives Matter after the murder of George Floyd and despite anti-Asian discrimination and violence, we found that Asian and Black races were negatively associated with unmet need for mental health counseling,” Nagata and colleagues wrote. “Although these findings were initially counterintuitive, it is possible that these populations may be less aware of an unmet mental health need and therefore less likely to self-report an unmet mental health need, even when they are experiencing a diagnosable mental condition.”

The researchers noted several ways of meeting the need for mental health counseling, including extending the use of telehealth past the emergency period; additional funding for mental health services; and expansion of mental health interventions at the individual, community, and national levels.

For related information, see the Psychiatric Services article “Social Determinants of Mental Health as Mediators and Moderators of the Mental Health Impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic.”

(Image: iStock/franckreporter)

Don't miss out! To learn about newly posted articles in Psychiatric News, please sign up here.


The content of Psychiatric News does not necessarily reflect the views of APA or the editors. Unless so stated, neither Psychiatric News nor APA guarantees, warrants, or endorses information or advertising in this newspaper. Clinical opinions are not peer reviewed and thus should be independently verified.