Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Americans report lowest mental-health ratings in nearly 20 years; farmers have trouble reaching out due to stigma

"The coronavirus pandemic and its associated lockdowns, prolonged unemployment, social isolation, and general uncertainty appear to have contributed to a decline in Americans’ mental health—to the point where self assessments have hit a nearly 20-year low," Emma Coleman reports for Route Fifty. "Seventy-six percent of adults now rate their mental health as 'excellent' or 'good,' a nine-point decline from 2019, according to a new Gallup poll that surveyed 1,018 people Nov. 5-19. Since 2001, the polling firm has been surveying Americans about their mental and emotional well-being, and in each of those years, between 81% and 89% of respondents had a positive outlook on their health."

The results are not surprising, considering the pandemic and its economic fallout combined with the coming winter, which can trigger seasonal depression, Coleman reports. But not all Americans saw the same rate of mental-health decline, and one demographic even saw an improvement. 

"Republicans, independents, women, those who never attend religious services, and unmarried people were among the groups that all saw double-digit drops in rating their mental health as excellent," Coleman reports. "Democrats had the least change in their ratings, dropping by only one point compared to last year. Those who attend weekly religious services were the only group to report better mental health this year than in 2019."

Rural Americans are more likely than their suburban and urban counterparts to report mental-health conditions, but less able to access or afford mental-health treatment, and stigma surrounding mental health problems sometimes makes them less likely to seek help.

Farming is one of the most stressful jobs in the U.S., and farmers report some of the highest rates of mental-health issues and suicides of any occupation. But farmers value independence, and it can be difficult for them to reach out or talk about stressors in their lives. In Eads, Colo., for example, a poor growing season has stressed many local farmers, but not many are seeking help, Susan Green reports for the Colorado News Collaborative.

Dawn Beck, a physician's assistant in Eads, told Green her patients "bristle" when she mentions anxiety or depression. "They say 'Well, we’ve been through this before,' even though this is by far the worst year anybody can remember. It’s a pride thing. A cowboy thing. And it’s just eating people up."

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