The loneliness epidemic speaks of the need for behavioral health care

Photo: Basak Gurbuz Derman / Getty Images

Loneliness: It was a pervasive problem in the United States before the pandemic, but COVID-19 has made it worse, forcing people into isolation and social distancing protocols. He has been one of the biggest drivers behind the push for increased access to mental health services and new vote From Morning Consult and Cigna shows that more than half of adults in the United States still consider themselves lonely.

Today’s survey found that about 58% of adults in the United States consider themselves lonely, an increase of seven percentage points from 2018. The data shows that adults with mental health problems are twice as likely to experience loneliness as those with strong mental health.

Of course, as in most aspects of health and well-being, personal factors such as race, age, gender, and income play a role in how lonely people feel, and some people are affected more than others.

For example, those from underrepresented ethnic groups are more likely to be lonely, including 75% of Hispanic adults and 68% of black adults—at least 10 percentage points higher than the total adult population.

The data showed that those on lower incomes are also more isolated, with about 63% of adults rating less than $50,000 a year. That’s 10 points higher than those earning $50,000 or more, and there’s a connection to Medicaid as well: About 72% of Americans who receive health benefits through Medicaid are classified as lonely, which is significantly more than the 55% of adults who They are covered by the private sector, employer or union health insurance benefits.

Young people generally appear to be the most lonely group overall, with 79% of those aged 18-24 reporting feeling lonely. This is significantly higher than the 41% of adults 66 or older who reported the same.

Men and women reported feeling lonely at roughly the same rates, with 57% of men and 59% of women saying they experienced loneliness.

What is the effect?

The data demonstrated a relationship between loneliness and poor physical or mental health. While one does not cause the other, the links do exist.

Adults with physical health problems, for example, are 50% more likely to be lonely than those in strong physical health. Seventy-seven percent of adults classified as having fair or poor physical health experience loneliness, while half of those in excellent or very good physical health experience loneliness.

Also, adults classified as lonely are significantly more likely to be diagnosed with or receive care for a range of health problems including sleep disturbances, weight problems, and substance abuse.

Perhaps the strongest link to loneliness is mental health struggles, as those with behavioral health issues are twice as likely to experience loneliness. One in four adults is classified as having fair or poor mental health, and among them 85% suffer from loneliness compared to 42% of adults with excellent or very good mental health. One in three adults is currently diagnosed alone or receiving medical treatment for a behavioral or mental health condition such as anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder.

The survey claims that the public and private sectors will need to work together to drive systemic change, but it focused specifically on actions that employers can take, such as prioritizing activities that bring people together in person and virtually — including team meetings, events, volunteer activities, employee resource groups and even City halls.

It also encouraged employers to prioritize work-life balance, encourage paid time off and provide a range of services and support for mental health concerns.

Big trend

A May survey showed CVS Health/Morning Consult Mental health concerns continue to rise Among Americans of all backgrounds, particularly blacks and young adults over 65 or known as LGBTQIA+.

The findings suggest an increased prevalence of mental health concerns among certain groups of Americans, and a greater willingness to seek options for care. Telehealth has come a long way towards making people feel more comfortable when seeking treatment.

A 2021 study showed that mental health services represent The most common use of telehealth During the early days of the epidemic. Amid rising rates of depression, results show that more patients are using telehealth for behavioral rather than physical conditions.

This shift to telehealth, especially video, has been enabled by time-limited regulatory changes related to reimbursement, privacy standards for telehealth technology, and licensing. Lessons learned from use during this period can inform policy in the post-COVID-19 era.

A report from health insurer Cigna, also released last year, found that companies have noticed this shift to behavioral health telematics: 44% of HR decision-makers and 27% of health plan leaders said increased access to health services Mentality will become a long-term solution for their organization. About 57% of health plan leaders said they have seen the value of mental health services increase more than most other services and benefits as a result of the coronavirus.

Telehealth is likely the main catalyst for this change, as many patients seek behavioral care for the first time during a public health crisis, thanks in large part to access to technology.
With more than 60% of behavioral health customers now using virtual services, 97% of people who accessed these services during initial stay-at-home requests from March to May 2020 did not have a telehealth behavioral claim prior to the closure.

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