APA: Americans May be Experiencing “Secondary Crisis” due to Pandemic-related Stress

The prolonged stress on Americans created by the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic continues to negatively affect their mental and physical health, according to the American Psychological Association’s (APA) latest Stress in America™ poll released March 11, 2021.

“We’ve been concerned throughout this pandemic about the level of prolonged stress, exacerbated by the grief, trauma and isolation that Americans are experiencing. This survey reveals a secondary crisis that is likely to have persistent, serious mental and physical health consequences for years to come,” said Arthur C. Evans Jr, PhD, chief executive officer, APA, in a press release. “Health and policy leaders must come together quickly to provide additional behavioral health supports as part of any national recovery plan.”

The annual Stress in America™ survey was conducted online by The Harris Poll on behalf of the APA between February 19-24, 2021, among 3013 adults aged ≥18 years.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, 61% of respondents experienced undesired weight changes (weight gain or loss), with 42% stating that they gained more weight than they intended. Of this group, respondents gained an average of 29 lbs (median amount gained was 15 lbs) and 10% gained >50 lbs.

Another 18% of respondents said they lost more weight than they planned, with the average amount of weight lost being 26 lbs (median amount lost was 12 lbs), according the survey.

Respondents also reported unwanted changes in sleep and increased alcohol intake since the pandemic started, with 67% who said they have been sleeping more or less than desired and 23% who reported drinking more alcohol to cope with stress.

Essential Workers More Likely to Receive Mental Health Treatment

Survey results also revealed that most essential workers (54%), such as law enforcement workers and healthcare workers, have relied on a lot of unhealthy habits to get them through the pandemic.

Approximately 29% said their mental health has worsened and 75% said they could have used more emotional support than they received since the pandemic started, according to the survey.

Essential workers, however, were also more than twice as likely as non-essential workers to have received treatment from a mental health professional (34% vs 12%) and to have been diagnosed with a mental health condition (25% vs 9%) since the pandemic began.

Racial Disparities Revealed

The survey also showed that pandemic-related stress has had a disproportionate impact on Hispanic and Black adults.

Hispanic adults were most likely to report undesired changes in:

  • Sleep (78% vs 76% Black, 63% White, 61% Asian)
  • Physical activity levels (87% vs 84% Black, 81% Asian, 79% White)
  • Weight (71% vs 64% Black, 58% White, 54% Asian)

In addition, Black adults were most likely to report feelings of concern about the future. Over half (54%) of Black respondents said they do not feel comfortable going back to living life like they did prior to the pandemic vs 48% of Hispanic, 45% of Asian, and 44% of White respondents.

Also, 57% of Black adults said they feel uneasy about adjusting to in-person interactions once the pandemic ends vs 51% of Asian adults, 50% of Hispanic adults, and 47% of White adults.

“It’s clear that the pandemic is continuing to have a disproportionate effect on certain groups,” concluded APA President Jennifer Kelly, PhD, in the same press release. “We must do more to support communities of color, essential workers and parents as they continue to cope with the demands of the pandemic and start to show the physical consequences of prolonged stress.”