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Majority of Americans Stressed About Nation's Future, Discrimination

New surveys highlight mental health toll of pandemic, current events

Depression and anxiety has spiked for African Americans in the weeks following George Floyd's death and the resulting protests.
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Following protests over racial injustice in cities across the country, and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic that began in March, more than 7 in 10 Americans say this is the lowest point in the country's history that they can remember, according to a new report from the American Psychological Association (APA).

More than 8 in 10 Americans say the future of the nation is a significant source of stress, and more than 7 in 10 say the same about police violence toward minorities, according to the report, which draws on findings from two surveys conducted by the Harris Poll on behalf of the APA. Plus, the proportion of black Americans who say discrimination is a significant source of stress has increased in the past month, with 55 percent of black adults saying so, up from 42 percent at the beginning of May.

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The report, titled Stress in America 2020: Stress in the Time of COVID-19, Volume Two, includes findings from surveys conducted from May 21 to June 3, 2020, and an additional poll about current civil unrest conducted from June 9 to 11, 2020.

"We are experiencing the collision of three national crises — the COVID-19 pandemic, economic turmoil and recent, traumatic events related to systemic racism. As a result, the collective mental health of the American public has endured one devastating blow after another, the long-term effects of which many people will struggle with for years to come,” said Arthur C. Evans, Jr., APA's chief executive officer in a press release.

Recent data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau also found that symptoms of anxiety and depression spiked among blacks and Asian Americans after George Floyd's death in Minneapolis on May 25. The findings come from the Census Bureau's Household Pulse Survey, which was launched in April in collaboration with five federal agencies as a way to track the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on a variety of factors, including physical and mental health, access to health care and employment status.

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Comparing the period of May 21 to 26, 2020, and May 28 to June 2, 2020, the rate of black Americans who said they have experienced symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorders increased from 36 to 41 percent, and the rate among Asian Americans increased from 28 to 34 percent. Among non-Hispanic white respondents in the same time period, the reported increase was smaller, from 32 to 33 percent. The rate among Hispanic Americans dipped from 42 to 38 percent.

"The reason for any increase or decrease cannot be definitively attributed to any one cause on the basis of the survey data. But it is certain that the survey will capture the mental health impact (if any) of events other than the coronavirus pandemic specifically,” says Stephen Blumberg, director of the National Center for Health Statistics’ Division of Health Interview Statistics, which collaborated with the Census Bureau on the survey.

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"No potential source of such anxiety or depression is mentioned,” Blumberg says of the survey's mental health questions, which ask participants about symptoms of anxiety or depression experienced in the previous seven days. “Increases over time in reported frequency of such feelings could be due to the pandemic, and such increases could also be due to other national events, family matters, personal hardships or heartbreaks, or many other situations that can lead to emotional responses."

Taken broadly, experts say that the Census Bureau findings help illuminate preexisting disparities when it comes to mental health among racial and ethnic minorities, as well as the ongoing psychological toll of the coronavirus pandemic.

"Even before the (death) of George Floyd, there was a whole confluence of factors that would be expected to have bigger mental health impacts on racial minorities,” says Karestan Koenen, a professor of psychiatric epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health who specializes in trauma and PTSD.

"All the mental health effects we talk about when we talk about the pandemic, we would expect to see even worse effects in communities that are more impacted [by COVID-19], which are communities of color or under-resourced communities,” she says.

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