After more than two years since the onset of COVID-19, Americans continue to feel the adverse mental health effects of the pandemic and other related stressors to a heightened degree. We’re facing a mental health crisis that has universal impact, even if it affects each community differently. In fact, CVS Health’s most recent survey found that mental health concerns have increased substantially among all Americans. The same study found that four-in-ten respondents aged 65 and older experienced mental health concerns for themselves, family or friends, reflecting a 10%-point increase compared to two years ago.
Additional research from Aetna indicates that 44% of Americans 65+ reported a negative impact on their overall stress levels due to COVID-19. Older adults are more likely to report heightened feelings of loneliness and social isolation, which can harm their total health, equivalent to smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. Further, the past two and a half years have been marked by a number of unprecedented events – from social justice issues to world events – all of which impact the mental health and well-being of individuals, including older adults.
Bright Spots Through the Pandemic
Perhaps there’s a silver lining to the negative events that have characterized the last two years. With the rise in mental health concerns, society has grown more comfortable discussing mental health. The survey reported that 56% of Americans were more comfortable engaging in discussions around the topic.
Many Americans look favorably on actions that help destigmatize mental health, such as hearing about others’ struggles, having conversations with friends and family and even seeking help from professionals. In fact, more than half of Americans (53%) agree that hearing about others’ challenges makes them more comfortable seeking out resources and care for themselves.
Another positive outcome of the pandemic has been the accelerated adoption of telehealth and digital tools. We’ve seen an incredible increase in the use of these resources across all populations — which are especially helpful in breaking down barriers to mental health care. And 60% of Americans 65+ say they have become more comfortable using telemedicine to improve mental health over the last two years.
While these may seem like small steps, they are leaps in the progress toward eliminating the stigma of mental health and propelling society towards convenient, high-quality mental health care that is accessible to all.
Help Is Always Available
Events like the COVID-19 pandemic, world events, societal issues, and more have affected and will continue to impact our collective mental well-being. However, we can aim to mitigate and alleviate these negative feelings by prioritizing our mental health, building resilience and reaching out for support.
As a first step, it’s important to look at your older loved ones’ health plan resources. Some Medicare plans, like Aetna, offer a companionship benefit with Papa Inc. that can help your older loved ones feel less socially isolated and enable them to form meaningful connections. Additionally, we must make sure that caregivers recognize the signs of poor mental health and are prepared to guide older adults to resources available to them. Finally, it’s crucial to check in with the older adults in our lives. Encourage them to talk about their mental health and overall well-being, as conversations around the topic can help older adults feel less alone, empowered and encouraged to seek support.
CVS Health is committed to expanding the services and resources available to our communities so that we can continue to meet their long-term needs. This includes bolstering our digital capabilities and telehealth services, providing support to organizations making progress towards mental health equity, such as the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and Mental Health America, and encouraging our communities to seek help when and where they need it, either locally — like at select CVS Health MinuteClinic or HealthHUB locations — or digitally.
Let this Mental Health Awareness Month serve as a reminder to check in on yourself and others and continue having open conversations about mental health. Now more than ever, we have an opportunity to create awareness, educate others and foster conversations around mental health. By doing this, we can continue on our path to destigmatize seeking care, ensure that people feel empowered and encouraged to seek help and truly make a difference in the well-being of our nation.
About the Contributors:
Cara McNulty, DPA, is President of Behavioral Health and Mental Well-being at CVS Health. She oversees a national team that spearheads the development of CVS Health and Aetna programs, products and capabilities designed to offer individuals easy access to quality, innovative treatments and meet people wherever they are along the continuum of mental wellbeing. She is a highly regarded executive leader and population health scientist who is known for her ability to integrate confirmed health science into practical business models that drive measurable outcomes.
Christopher Ciano is President of Aetna Medicare. As a former caregiver for his parents, Christopher brings a unique perspective to the Medicare conversation. He oversees operations and business strategy for Aetna’s robust portfolio of Medicare Advantage plans, Medicare prescription drug plans and Medicare Supplement plans. An advocate for the aging population, Christopher is passionate about simplifying health care and helping Aetna’s more than 10 million Medicare members nationwide achieve their best health.