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US mental health spending sees over 50% surge since pandemic outbreak: study

mental health

The pandemic era thrust mental health concerns into the spotlight, with factors like social isolation and limited interactions exacerbating existing issues

Mental health spending surged over 50% in the US since the onset of the pandemic, a study published in JAMA Health Forum has revealed, underlining the growing recognition of the critical role mental well-being plays in overall healthcare.

The study, which spanned the years from 2019 to 2022, focused on adults with private insurance and their engagement with mental healthcare services for conditions such as anxiety disorders, PTSD, major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia.

The findings reveal a remarkable 53.7% spike in spending on mental health services among privately-insured adults during this period. This surge in financial commitment signifies a pivotal shift in prioritizing mental health care, especially in a time marked by unprecedented challenges posed by the pandemic.

The research also delved into the nuances of mental healthcare utilization across three distinct phases: before the pandemic, the acute phase of the pandemic, and the post-acute phase of the pandemic.

During the acute phase of the pandemic, spanning from March 2020 to December 2020, a profound transformation in the mode of mental health service delivery was observed. In-person services experienced a sharp 40% decline, a consequence of lockdowns and safety concerns. However, this void was swiftly filled by a tenfold increase in the utilization of telehealth services—a trend that emerged as a lifeline for individuals seeking mental health support while adhering to pandemic restrictions.

The study’s analysis of the post-acute period, which extended from December 2020 to August 2022, revealed a remarkable stabilization of telehealth services at levels ten times higher than the pre-pandemic era. In-person services, on the other hand, exhibited a consistent monthly increase of approximately 2%. By August 2022, in-person visits had rebounded to reach around 80% of pre-pandemic levels, underlining the resilience of conventional methods of care.

As the formal public health emergency phase concludes, experts anticipate dynamic shifts in these trends. The fate of mental health televisit coverage by insurers remains uncertain, raising questions about the continuity of funding for such services in the post-pandemic landscape.

The pandemic era thrust mental health concerns into the spotlight, with factors like social isolation and limited interactions exacerbating existing issues. A Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) survey conducted in October, 2022 highlighted that a staggering 90% of respondents perceived a mental health crisis in the US. Moreover, the impact on children’s mental health was a pressing concern for nearly half of the surveyed parents. A Pew Research Center study further documented that 41% of US adults experienced psychological distress during the pandemic.

The study’s authors emphasize the importance of integrating behavioral care into primary care practices. Such a holistic approach could effectively tackle barriers related to access, affordability, and stigma, while paving the way for more comprehensive and inclusive healthcare services. Dena Bravata, a co-author of the study, advocates for the merging of behavioral and physical health support to create a more unified and responsive healthcare framework.

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