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Americans More Worried About Mental Health Than Physical

Gallup survey reveals serious concerns over pandemic's emotional toll

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More Americans are worried about the effects of pandemic-related restrictions on their mental health than on their physical health, according to a new Gallup poll.

While 68 percent of respondents said they think their physical health can withstand the social distancing guidelines and business closures required to contain the coronavirus outbreak for “as long as necessary,” only 48 percent felt secure that their “emotional or mental health” wouldn't suffer.

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The poll, conducted April 6 through 12 with 7,931 adults, revealed some differences between age groups. Younger people said they find the restrictions more difficult: 26 percent of those 18 to 44 said their emotional or mental health is already suffering. Nine percent of people 45 to 64 years old and 5 percent of those 65 and older said so.

The oldest group also was more likely to say that they could withstand the restrictions for “as long as necessary” without mental health problems than the youngest group — 62 percent compared to 35 percent. The researchers surmised that “Older adults may be more patient because they know their health risks are higher than those for younger adults, should they contract COVID-19. They are also more likely to be retired and on a fixed income, which might make them somewhat less financially vulnerable."

While 70 percent of those 65 and older felt that they could follow social distancing practices and business closures for as long as necessary without “experiencing significant financial hardship,” only about half of those 18 to 64 said they could do so.

And women are reporting more difficulties with social distancing than men: 19 percent said they're already suffering from the emotional or mental health effects, compared to 12 percent of men.

The poll supports other surveys and health experts’ concerns about how the coronavirus outbreak and its disruptions to normal routines are affecting and will continue to affect Americans’ mental health. A Kaiser Family Foundation poll at the end of March found that 45 percent of respondents believed that “worry or stress related to coronavirus” was having an impact on their mental health.

"It's really normal to find people feeling anxious” during this pandemic, which “has all the hallmarks of a traumatic event,” said Karestan Koenen, a professor of psychiatric epidemiology at Harvard University's T.H. Chan School of Public Health, during a media call on Thursday. She noted the high number of job losses, the outbreak's unpredictability and limits on social connection — something that would normally be a key source of comfort during such a difficult time.

It's “incredibly stressful,” Koenen said. The challenge, she added, is figuring out “how to prevent a normal reaction from becoming a mental health problem.”

Some key resources for those who may need mental health assistance:

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