Early this month, the American Psychological Association (APA) released the findings of its annual survey of stress in America, which provides a glimpse into the current situation as it relates to psychological well-being. The overarching theme of the report relates a sense of collective toxic stress that reverberates in the aftermath of the national public health emergency connected to the COVID-19 pandemic, declared over by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on May 11, 2023.
Compounding stressors clearly illustrate a lack of clarity and political will in addressing structural impediments to improved mental health outcomes.
Widespread collective trauma has played a key role in health outcomes more generally. Added acute stress manifests in the body through increased wear on the immune system, inflammation, digestive issues and heart disease. This is why we need to grasp the importance of connecting the mind to the body — both operate in tandem.
Per APA’s 2023 survey, the effect of long-term stress since the start of the pandemic has led to higher incidences of chronic illness for folks between 35 to 44 years old (58% in 2023, in contrast to 48% in 2019). This same age demographic has also experienced the highest increase in mental health diagnoses (31% in 2019, in comparison to 45% in 2023), yet still trails the 18 to 34 age group, which registers a 50% rate in mental illness diagnosis.
This year’s report highlighted two key demographic groups as having experienced significant impact: Women and young adults. Makes sense.
Young people are given the prospect of having to make life-altering decisions after a “100-year event” significantly impacted their entry into academics, the professional world and other life milestones. The prospect of going through these moments early in the pandemic certainly has ripple effects.
Likewise, women have also had to contend with additional stressors that surfaced this decade, with many having to take on the added role of caretaker within their families, on top of also having to contend with everyday demands in the personal and professional realms. Add to this the specter of systemic sexism in policy and employment and the lack of support in promoting equitable division of labor in the personal realm and we see how these stressors continue to perpetuate unease.
This study lays out what we have known for a long while: Folks who are already socially marginalized often bear a higher burden during times of stress.
We need to promote policy that will ameliorate conditions for the folks experiencing the brunt while addressing the root causes that continue to impact people in disproportionate ways.
Read more of the Nov. 22–28, 2023 issue.