Stress in America hit families hard.

Stress in America: Behavioral Health Post-COVID

COVID-19 caused a lot of behavioral health issues in America: increase stress, weight gain, sleep loss, delayed healthcare, and more. The American Psychological Association (APA) recently release a report called Stress in America: One Year Later, A New Wave of Pandemic Concerns. In a moment, we’ll dive into the key findings, including all the parts that we found particularly interesting.

The truth is that many people across the country are suffering without being able to access the mental health support they need. Our job, as professionals, is to educate them about the different behavioral health services can make as well as the ways in which people can access them.

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Key Findings From the Stress in America Report

The Stress in America report is based on a nationwide survey. It revealed some concerning truths about the way Americans are coping with the pandemic – namely, that an inability to cope with the stress was causing people’s physical health to decline. Researchers say it signals not just stress, but grief and trauma, which could lead to significant long-term consequences including chronic illness.

Here are some fast facts:

  • 61% of people reported undesired weight gain or loss since the outbreak.
  • 67% said they had noticed their sleep patterns had changed in undesired ways
  • 47% reported they had delayed or canceled regular healthcare services

Some other interesting trends emerged when the results were crunched. Nearly half of all parents said their level of stress had increased due to things such as remote learning. Non-essential workers were twice as likely to get mental health support than essential workers. Generation Z (which refers to people born between 1997 and 2015) was struggled the most with mental health issues. Finally, Black Americans felt most concerned about the future, more than Asian, Hispanic, or White people.

The World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a global pandemic in March 2020. Since then, it’s caused a profound period of prolonged stress. More than half a million Americans have died from the virus. On top of that, the APA notes there have been many other stressful factors, including an election and widespread civil unrest. This is undoubtedly a time for the history books.

Supporting Americans Experiencing Stress

Helping Clients Manage Weight

There are lots of different ways the APA recommends supporting Americans through these difficult times, depending on the issue at hand. Take weight management, for example:

  • Identifying unhealthy habits: Ask the client to take note of when they are overeating or making poor choices around food. Tell them to pay attention to what happened immediately prior to the event and how they feel afterward.
  • Changing unhealthy behaviors: Work with your client to help them set specific and realistic goals, such as trying to drink less. Explain to them why it’s so important to have an accountability buddy to support them through this process.
  • Manage weight moving forward: Weight is something millions of Americans struggle with on a daily basis. Instead of trying to lose weight, tell your client that the first step is just to maintain it by developing good habits. This includes a routine that factors in a healthy diet, daily exercise, and quality sleep. It’s practical, but very helpful.

Supporting Parents Through COVID-19

Another good example is working through the stress of parenting during COVID-19. In addition to navigating the wild world of working from home, many parents also found themselves immersed in home schooling for the first time. On top of that, children and adolescents suffered huge social disruptions that is known to have caused significant levels of depression and anxiety. No-one, except perhaps newborn babies, was spared the impacts of extended periods of isolation.

The survey found that mothers were more likely to report worsening mental health than fathers. However, fathers were more likely to report behavioral changes such as sleeping more or less than desired and experiencing unwanted weight changes. Interestingly, fathers were more likely to have received some kind of mental health treatment during the outbreak (38% to 26%). More than half of the parents surveyed agreed that their children could also have benefited from counseling.

The APA recommends starting with self-care, starting with manageable 15 or 30-minute increments, and teaching your kids to do the same. It’s also really important to stay connected with other family members to boost emotional resilience, which starts with device-free time spent together.

Guiding Essential Workers Who are Struggling

The final example we’re going to dive into is the APA recommendations around helping essential workers. Many feel a strong sense of duty or obligation, which can see them burning the candle at both ends for far too long. The survey found that 34% of essential workers had received mental health support. However, 75% told researchers that “they could have used more emotional support than they received.” This is an area where mental health professionals can make a big difference.

Here are some helpful tips:

  • Encourage flexibility: Duty is a powerful motivator but it can lead to extremely rigid thought patterns. Encourage your client to ask their employer for flexibility, whether that’s around the hours they work or the conditions. Everyone reacts to these circumstances slightly differently, but small changes on the work front can alleviate a lot of pressure.
  • Get one-on-one support: Encourage your client to find someone they can turn to for support at work, such as their manager or a co-worker. Speaking to some who “gets” it, and knows exactly what they’re going through, can significantly improve emotional resilience.
  • Teach clear communication: When a client is in battle mode, it’s easy for them to keep trudging forward, no matter what. However, if they’re not coping, it’s important that they can communicate that clearly and constructively. This is critical to reducing stress and avoiding burnouts, because it’s unrealistic to expect someone to work at 100% all the time.

Promoting Access to Mental Health Support

One of the most significant ways we can make a difference is to ensure that our services are available to the people who need us most. Teletherapy has made a big difference in this regard, because it means we can speak to people all over the country from the comfort of their homes. It’s proven to be very inclusive and effective strategy in these trying times.

However, that’s only helpful once people have actually connected with us. We all know from experience that finding a client and counselor who fit can be difficult. There are many barriers: maybe the client’s insurance isn’t suitable, maybe they need something beyond our personal experience and expertise, maybe we’re simply not available to meet them.

Teletherapy was a huge development, but now it’s time for the next innovation: revolutionizing the online booking process for therapists. Advancements in technology are such that we no longer have to make people call every counselor in their local area to find someone with the right skills and availability. Instead, we can use platforms like Ravel Mental Health, which have a range of inclusive filters as well as an instant online booking option, to quickly find a match.

It’s a small thing, but it will make a huge difference to a generation of stressed-out Americans.

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