‘Stress in America’ survey shows adults have collective trauma

By Susan Gonsalves
January 2nd, 2024

Data from the most recent “Stress in America,” survey shows that people of all ages are still experiencing trauma from the pandemic that has impacted their physical and mental wellbeing.

Arthur C. Evans, Jr., Ph.D., the American Psychological Association chief executive officer, noted in a statement: “The COVID-19 pandemic created a collective experience among Americans. While the early-pandemic lockdowns may seem like the distant past, the aftermath remains.”

The Harris Poll conducts the nationwide study on the APA’s behalf, surveying more than 3,000 adults over the age of 18.

The results also cite inflation, racism and racial injustice, global conflict, and climate-related disasters as high causes of stress.

Some of the key findings indicate chronic illnesses are on the rise since the COVID-19 began, going from 48% in 2019 to 58% in 2023 among adults ages 35-44.

“The COVID-19 pandemic created a collective experience among Americans. While the early-pandemic lockdowns may seem like the distant past, the aftermath remains.” --Arthur C. Evans, Jr., Ph.D., APA chief executive officer

That age group also experienced a hike in mental health diagnoses, rising from 31% in 2019 to 45% this year.

However, adults ages 18 to 34 still report the most mental health illnesses at 50 percent.

Money and the economy are major stressors for adults ages 35 to 44, increasing from 65% to 77% since 2019 and 51% to 74%, respectively.

Other findings indicate 66% of adults saying they have been told by a health care provider they have a chronic illness. However, 81% of them called their physical health good or very good in the poll.

That same percentage (81%) called their mental health either good, very good or excellent.

The rate of 37% reporting a diagnosed mental health disorder rose from pre-pandemic levels in 2019 of 32%.

Although many adults feel stressed out, more than two-thirds said others have it worse.

Despite that sentiment, 47% report they wish they had someone to help them manage stress. The top reasons they do not seek treatment are: a belief therapy does not work (40%), not enough time (39%), and lack of insurance (37%).

When asked to rate their stress levels on a scale of one to 10 (with one meaning little to no stress and 10 meaning a great deal of stress), 24% of respondents reported average stress of eight to 10.

Before the pandemic, that rate was 19%.

Additionally, 34% of adults ages 18 to 34 and 31% of people in the 35 to 44 age group reported high levels of stress, up eight and 10 percentage points since 2019.

Twenty-two percent of respondents ages 45 to 64 experienced high stress, an increase of four percentage points, compared to 9% of those 65+ (-1 percentage point).

Regarding increased financial strains, parents reported more than other adults, rising from 34% to 46%.

Other findings:

– Money causes family fights ( 30% in 2019, 58% in 2023);
– Worries about money consumes them (39% in 2019, 66% in 2023);
– Parents with children under 18 have completely overwhelming stress on most days (26% to 48%);
– Those parents are so stressed they feel numb (22% to 42%) or cannot function (20% to 41%).

“Stress affects all systems of the body, so it is crucial that Americans know the serious impacts of stress and what they can do to reduce the effect of stressors in their life, as well as receive help from their health care providers, workplace, and support systems to prevent further health crises,” Evans said.

Discrimination and personal safety are significant sources of stress, reported by 27% and 39%, respectively.

Acts of discrimination were cited by respondents based on age (36%), race (28%) and gender (22%).

Members of the LGBTQIA+ community cite discrimination as a significant stressor (45%); do not feel comfortable voicing their experiences around others (57%); and do not feel accepted (43%).
Further, more than a third of adults with disabilities cite discrimination as a stressor; 57% do not feel comfortable voicing experiences; and 40% do not feel accepted in their community.

Also, Black and Latino adults were more likely than Asian and White adults to feel significantly stressed about discrimination (43% and 40%, compared to 31% and 19%).

The survey was conducted Aug. 4–26, 2023.

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