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Mental health survey: COVID‑19 is burning Americans out

December 02, 2021 | Mental Health


The country continues to be stressed due to COVID-19. And according to our new survey, we’re exhausted as a result.

Aetna, a CVS Health® company, continues to examine the impact COVID-19 is having on the mental and emotional health of the nation.

In our latest survey, covering early October 2021, 55% of American adults report a negative impact on their overall stress levels due to the pandemic. Moreover, 69% of adults nationwide have concerns about the potential impact of the virus on the health of their loved ones, rebounding to levels seen in January 2021 (71%) after dipping in April (65%).

Concerns around mental wellbeing continue to be significantly higher among young adults and parents. Fifty-four percent of 18 to 34-year-olds, and 52% of parents of all ages, report that the pandemic has had a negative impact on the state of their mental health, compared to 44% of adults overall.

For a more detailed look at the results, including the impact of burnout on the workplace, view our latest white paper, “Burnout and Resilience: The Enduring Impact of COVID-19 on Mental Health”.

How COVID-19 stress is leading to burnout

When asked how often they were experiencing a variety of emotions over the last three months, more than 4 in 10 Americans (44%) report experiencing burnout or mental exhaustion “at least somewhat often”. In addition, 53% of adults have “worried about what will happen next” while exactly half have felt as though they are just trying to get through the week “at least somewhat often”.

“Since the start of the pandemic, we’ve seen COVID-19 rates rise and fall and rise again in communities,” said Cara McNulty, DPA, President, Aetna Behavioral Health. “We’ve missed time with family and friends. Sadly, we’ve lost loved ones. And now you layer on recent issues, such as the back-to-school season or major weather events in some parts of the country. These add up, and it leads to stress and increasingly more worries. In response, we lose patience with one another or neglect our own self-care. It means we are burnt out.”

Unfortunately, burnout — which is a state of emotional, mental, and often physical exhaustion — brought on by prolonged or repeated stress - is particularly prevalent among young adults and parents.

Among 18 to 34-year-olds, 64% report feeling burnout or mental exhaustion “at least somewhat often” over the last three months, and 70% have felt they are just trying to get through the week. In addition, majorities have experienced less patience with others (58%), disinterest in their usual hobbies or activities (54%) and a lack of motivation at work or school (56%)” at least somewhat often.”

While 57% of parents have noted burnout or mental exhaustion “somewhat often” since the summer, different factors standout. About 7 in 10 parents report missing a family or social event such as a vacation or graduation due to COVID-19, and over half said the amount of time they have spent providing care has increased. Sixty percent have also been overwhelmed trying to understand the news and policies on the pandemic.

Improving mental health by focusing on resilience

“Burnout is a normal stress response but incorporating self-care strategies and resources to improve mental wellbeing can reduce the feelings associated with burnout and help build resilience for the future,” notes McNulty.

Fortunately, 6 in 10 adults (and 69% of parents and 68% of young adults) agree they could benefit from learning how to improve resilience. A majority of adults (54%) also felt routine mental health checkups, similar to an annual physical, would be beneficial.

To help individuals both build resilience to future challenges and the ability to thrive beyond them, Aetna’s MindCheck tool is a simple way that individuals can get a quick read on their emotional health and how they can improve it, while our mental health awareness guides for young adults and parents and caregivers provide tools to support mental health.

In addition, Aetna’s Resources for Living members have access to 24/7 free emotional support, daily life assistance and tools to build resilience. This program is also a supplemental benefit of Aetna’s Medicare Advantage plans.

CVS Health, which is striving to make mental well-being services more accessible, less complicated, and more convenient, also offers patients access to licensed clinical social workers (LCSW) at MinuteClinic in select HealthHUB locations. These social workers provide counseling that addresses feelings of stress, anxiety, grief, depression and more.

Survey methodology

The survey was conducted by Morning Consult between October 8-October 11, 2021 among a national sample of 2,200 adults, including 551 parents, 565 18 to 34-year-olds and 522 adults 65 and up. The interviews were conducted online, and the data were weighted to approximate a target sample of adults based on gender, educational attainment, age, race, and region. Results from the full survey have a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points and a plus or minus of 4 percentage points for parents, 18 to 34-year-olds, and 65 and up.