Many Americans are experiencing anxiety symptoms as a result of the pandemic. Yet, one in five say they won’t seek treatment for mental health conditions and others say they won’t get help until these symptoms take a toll in their lives.
Nearly half (46%) of all respondents rated their anxiety symptoms as moderate to severe over the past six months, according to the GeneSight Mental Health Monitor from Myriad Genetics, a leader in genetic testing and precision medicine.
Of those surveyed who are diagnosed with anxiety, the numbers are even worse – 86% rated their anxiety symptoms as moderate to severe over the past six months. While the pandemic is only 18 months old, more than half of those diagnosed with anxiety say they lived with symptoms for years or decades before seeking treatment.
For those who haven’t sought treatment but are concerned they may be suffering from anxiety, only 36% are planning to seek treatment. When asked what it would take to get help for their anxiety, 47% said a debilitating panic attack. Additional reasons included not being able to leave their homes (34%), sleep issues (31%), an unshakeable feeling of dread (30%) and a negative impact to relationships (30%).
“Imagine waiting until you lose your hearing to treat an ear infection. Patients who are experiencing anxiety symptoms shouldn’t wait to seek treatment,” said Robin Miller, Internist, MD, MHS, owner of Triune Integrative Medicine in Medford, Oregon. “If you are afraid to go out, experiencing panic attacks, can’t sleep, or your relationships are suffering, you don’t have to live like this. You don’t have to wait. You don’t have to suffer for years. Help is out there – and treatment can help.”
The impact of COVID on anxiety
Many American adults expressed concern regarding how the pandemic has impacted their mental health:
- Second Pandemic. Two in three of all respondents say that the U.S. is experiencing, or will experience, a second pandemic – this time, it will be a mental health pandemic. Almost six in 10 of all respondents said they are concerned with anxiety and/or pandemic-related PTSD.
- Top Causes of Anxiety. “Concern of the safety of loved ones” (68%) and “fear of infection” (57%) were the top reasons cited by all respondents for why the pandemic increased their anxiety symptoms.
- Anxiety Symptoms: Nearly two-thirds of respondents diagnosed with anxiety said their symptoms have increased “a little or a lot” as a result of changing requirements around COVID-19 restrictions.
Mental health conversation is shifting
Of those diagnosed with anxiety, nearly half said they would feel more comfortable talking about their mental health today than they would a year ago.
“The pandemic appears to have made people willing to share their mental health struggles,” said Mark Pollack, MD, chief medical officer for Mental Health at Myriad Genetics. “Talking about mental health challenges is the first step towards getting treatment.”
Mental health disorders should be treated
While more people appear to be willing to talk about their mental health, one out of five respondents still say they won’t seek treatment. The top reasons for those who would NOT seek treatment for a mental challenge are:
- Minimize their struggles. 35% of all respondents say “it’s not a big deal,” while 24% say their struggles are “just a phase.”
- Money. 25% say they didn’t want to spend the money or that it costs too much.
- Medication resistance. 22% say they don’t want to go through trial-and-error medication treatment.
“Untreated anxiety can be associated with distressing and disabling panic attacks, intense worry, and disruption to your life, work and relationships,” said Dr. Pollack. “Like other medical conditions, individuals should seek evaluation and treatment as early as possible, to minimize the distress and dysfunction associated with these conditions.”
Anna, a 32-year-old mother who was first diagnosed with anxiety in her early 20s, said that seeking treatment wasn’t easy. She went through an extensive trial-and-error period with different medications and dosages.
“Medication seems to work fast in my body, so after taking a medication that was supposed to help me, my anxiety would instead get worse – I would have suicidal thoughts and be paralyzed with worry,” said Anna. “My doctor would increase the dosage or change medications, which would lead to horrible side effects.”
Anna then took the GeneSight test, which analyzes how a patient’s genes may affect their outcomes with medications commonly prescribed to treat anxiety, depression, ADHD, and other psychiatric conditions.
“After reviewing the results of my test, my psychiatrist reduced the dose by half, and it helped me. I honestly don’t know if I would have taken another medication if it hadn’t been for genetic testing,” said Anna. “I’m glad I pursued treatment until I found a medication and dosage that worked for me. Now that I’m not riddled with crippling anxiety, everything has gotten better. I’m a better mom. I’m more motivated, more outgoing and friendly.”