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The Pandemic’s Ongoing Impacts on Mental Health, Relationships and Finance

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By The Research Institute for Social Equity (RISE) at VCU Wilder School
September 1, 2021

For many, mental health has declined.

42% of adults in Virginia say that the pandemic has had a negative impact on their mental health, according to the new statewide poll conducted for the Virginia Department of Emergency Management by the Research Institute for Social Equity (RISE) at the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at Virginia Commonwealth University. The poll, conducted between July 6 and July 19, 2021, involved a representative sample of 842 adults in Virginia and has a margin of error of 4.62%.

9% of those polled say the pandemic had a major negative mental health impact. Asians (44%) were most likely to report feelings of worry or stress due to the pandemic, followed by Caucasions (43%) and African Americans (41%). At 30%, Hispanics were the least likely to report feelings of stress or worry.

 “The poll shows that the ongoing need for mental healthcare is exacerbated by the pandemic. The increases in patient care demonstrate the need for adequate services because agencies still are not fully comporting to meeting demands,” said former Governor L. Douglas Wilder. “There is a growing racial divide in health care that disproportionately affects people of color at every level of services.”

These findings are similar to those of nationwide polls. A February 2021 poll conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 41% of adults reported experiencing symptoms of depression or anxiety. For comparison, only 11% reported such feeling prior to the pandemic.

When asked about the pandemic’s impact on their behaviors, white respondents with negative mental health effects were more than twice as likely to report increased use of tobacco, alcohol and other substances (21%) than African Americans respondents (8%). However, African Americans were more likely to report difficulty concentrating and making decisions than Caucasians (46% vs. 30%).

By political party, the RISE poll found that over half of Democrats said that the pandemic had a negative impact on their mental health (56%), compared to 34% of Republicans and 27% of Independents. Among those who are not likely to get vaccinated, 29% report that worry or stress related to COVID-19 has had a negative effect on their mental health.

Financial Impacts of the Pandemic

The status of one’s mental health can be impacted by their financial status, and the RISE poll found that racial and ethnic minorities were more likely to experience negative financial impacts due to the pandemic. While the majority of participants said they did not fall behind in paying their rent or mortgage, did not have problems paying for food and did not have problems affording health insurance, 17% stated that they had a household member lose a job, be placed on furlough or have work pay or hours reduced due to COVID-19. Of those who did report struggles, African American respondents were nearly three times more likely than white respondents to have fallen behind in rent or mortgage payments (11% versus 4%) and were more than twice as likely to have fallen behind on credit cards and other bills (18% versus 9%). In addition, households with incomes under $50,000 were most likely to have fallen behind in rent or mortgage (13%), have trouble paying for food (15%), have fallen behind on credit card or other bills (22%), have trouble affording health insurance (12%) and have trouble paying medical bills (15%) as a result of COVID-19.

Improvements in Personal Relationships

While many adults polled reported negative mental health impacts, the pandemic led to important positive experiences as well. 44% of respondents said that they saw improvements in their personal relationships with family and friends, and 40% said that they had an improved view of the government’s response to safety precautions during a pandemic. A quarter of respondents also felt that their physical health had improved.

Policy Recommendations

In light of the struggles that many have experienced, policymakers can take steps to help promote mental health. These steps may include providing increased funding for mental health and substance abuse services, increasing access to services by working to reduce a shortage in mental health professionals and working to improve and increase insurance coverage of mental healthcare. Policymakers may also work to provide financial assistance when needed, such as the ongoing eviction moratorium.

While it’s likely that the mental health of many will continue to be negatively impacted by the pandemic, the noted improvements in personal relationships are encouraging. By focusing on positive areas, and by ensuring increased and equitable access to mental health services and financial support, policymakers can help mitigate the pandemic’s negative impacts and build healthier communities for all.

Author: The Research Institute for Social Equity (RISE) within the VCU Wilder School serves as a vehicle to advance equity and social justice for communities of color, LGBTQIA individuals, people with disabilities, incarcerated populations, survivors of domestic violence and women through multidisciplinary scholarship, research, training and engagement. Twitter: @VCUWilderSchool

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