Mental Health Awareness Month: COVID-19 increased anxiety, depression by 25%

The COVID-19 pandemic has been hard on our mental health.

“In the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, global prevalence of anxiety and depression increased by a massive 25%,” according to a scientific brief released by the World Health Organization (WHO) in March. Meanwhile, a CDC survey found in June 2020, “suicidal ideation was also elevated; approximately twice as many respondents reported serious consideration of suicide in the previous 30 days than did adults in the United States in 2018, referring to the previous 12 months (10.7% versus 4.3%).”

Although people may feel uncomfortable discussing mental health, it’s essential to talk about it and end the stigma.

10% of global disease burden

Of course, the challenge of mental illness predates the pandemic.

“Mental, neurological and substance use disorders account for more than 10% of the global disease burden. The lost productivity resulting from depression and anxiety, two of the most common mental disorders, cost the global economy $1 trillion each year,” the WHO said.

Patients with severe mental illness “die about 10-20 years earlier than the general population,” research has shown, and the global economy loses around US$ 1 trillion in output each year as a result of depression and anxiety, according to the WHO.

Young people suffer particularly hard: 1 in every 5 children and adolescents in the world has a mental condition, and around half of all mental problems begin before the age of 14, says the WHO. COVID-19 increased problems for U.S. teens, according to the CDC.

Another report, released March 31 by the CDC, showed lockdowns, remote schooling, isolation and other challenges caused by COVID-19 had a negative effect on the mental well-being of the adolescent population. More than one-third (37%) of high school students reported they experienced poor mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic, and 44% reported they persistently felt sad or hopeless during the past year, the CDC Adolescent Behaviors and Experiences Survey found.

‘Together for Mental Health’

Due to the social stigma, mental illness historically hasn’t been discussed as much as  other ailments, but sharing knowledge is critical. This is one reason Mental Health Awareness Month is so important.

During May, National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), the organizers of Mental Health Awareness Month, continue to fight the stigma of mental illness, provide support, educate the public, and advocate for policies that support people living with mental illness and their families.

During May 2022, NAMI will amplify the message of “Together for Mental Health.”

While there are good treatments available, and many mental health issues may be adequately treated at little cost, the gap between those who need treatment and those who have access to care remains significant, according to the WHO.

How biotech can address mental illness

The pharmaceutical industry can do more to address serious mental illness (SMIs), and policy changes can encourage greater drug R&D, according to a report released early this year from the Center for the Evaluation of Value and Risk in Health (CEVR) of the Tufts Medical Center. This is a very important issue, as treatments are a substantial part of reducing the burden that SMIs impose on the health care system, according to CEVR. CEVR therefore recommends several measures, including increased funding, increased periods of exclusivity, and dedicating more resources to mental health providers.

Other solutions by biotech and pharma companies include medical treatments for stress—one of the main causes of mental issues—with more recent developments involving the controlled use of psychedelics.

Psychedelics such as DMT, psilocybin, MDMA, and LSD are being developed to treat a variety of mental problems such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), said commentary by According to one study conducted by Johns Hopkins researchers, psychedelic therapy with psilocybin reduced symptoms of severe depressive disorder in some patients for at least a year. Another study from McGill University found that taking modest doses of LSD on a daily basis decreases anxiety symptoms via neurobiological processes comparable to frequently prescribed antidepressants.

Recent progress has been reported with tabernanthalog (TBG) as well, a synthesized psychedelic analog of naturally occurring psychoactive substance ibogaine, which has been shown to have anti-addictive and antidepressant properties.

Researchers who gave TBG to mice reported last year that “a single dose of TBG decreases their anxiety level and rescues deficits in sensory processing as well as in cognitive flexibility.”

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