Rochester, NY

The Silent Pandemic: COVID-19’s Impact on Mental Health

Forty-one percent of adults report struggling with mental health or substance use, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, up from 20 percent pre-COVID. Nearly one in three adults now report having symptoms of anxiety or depression. 

“Behind the masks, people are hurting,” says Geoffrey Hopkins, MD, Senior Medical Director for Behavioral Health at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield. “As we approach another year of living with COVID-19, even more attention needs to be paid to mental health challenges as our country wrestles with finding its new normal.”          

The National Center for Health Statistics, a part of the CDC, is monitoring the situation closely. In April 2020, it partnered with the Census Bureau to conduct an ongoing Household Pulse Survey designed to complement the ability of the federal statistical system to quickly respond to, and provide relevant information about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S. The survey is collecting information on symptoms of anxiety and depression experienced by participants. Results have been consistent since the pandemic began, with 30.8 percent of respondents reporting symptoms of anxiety and depression in Phase 1 of the survey (April 23 - May 5, 2020), and 27.3 percent reporting symptoms in Phase 3.2 (September 29 – October 11, 2021). For comparison, a similar pre-COVID NHIS survey conducted in 2019 found just 10.8 percent of adults aged 18 and over reported symptoms of anxiety disorder or depressive disorder.

“If there’s any good news since the start of COVID, it’s that Americans have embraced telemedicine, with its increased access to behavioral health services,” says Hopkins. “Patients can see a specific behavioral health provider on an ongoing basis from the privacy of their home, where they feel comfortable and can call at their convenience.” He also points out that in areas that have a shortage of behavioral health professionals, especially those who treat children and adolescents, telemedicine offers patients access to behavioral health services that otherwise may not have been readily available to them. 

Specialists providing care via telemedicine for behavioral health treatment include psychiatrists, social workers, psychologists, counselors, and nurse practitioners. Services include treatment of mental health conditions such as generalized anxiety disorders, major depressive disorders, dysthymic disorders, posttraumatic stress disorders and adjustment disorders. Substance use disorders treated by telemedicine providers include opioid use disorder, alcohol use disorder, and tobacco use disorder. 

“If you’re dealing with mental health issues or substance use, speak with your primary care doctor, or ask your health insurer to help you find a behavioral health provider,” advises Hopkins. “You can get through this, you’re not alone, and you don’t have to suffer in silence behind your mask.”

Data Sources: 

Joy Auch, (585) 238-4374

Excellus BlueCross BlueShield, an independent licensee of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, is a nonprofit health plan with 1.5 million upstate New York members. The company's mission is to help people live healthier and more secure lives through access to high-quality, affordable health care. Its products and services include cost-saving prescription drug discounts, wellness tracking tools and access to telemedicine. With more than 3,500 employees, the company is committed to attracting and retaining a diverse workforce to foster innovation and better serve its members. It also encourages employees to engage in their communities by providing paid volunteer time off as one of many benefits. To learn more, visit


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