During the pandemic, about four in 10 American adults have reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder. This share is up from one in 10 adults reporting symptoms prior to the pandemic. COVID-19 has exacerbated mental health issues for many, so it’s important that we all focus on our mental health and the mental health of those around us.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, a time to reflect on those patients and caregivers, including myself, whose lives are deeply impacted by the effects of mental illness. We should use this month as an opportunity to raise awareness about the impacts of mental illness and seek to better understand what it means to face a mental illness, deal with significant moments of stress throughout one’s life or help loved ones navigate similar challenges.
Mental illnesses represent a wide spectrum of conditions including, for example, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, substance-use disorder, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. Each of these illnesses often varies in its degree of severity, ranging from mild to moderate to severe, and may also occur together. Regardless of severity, mental illness can often impact major life activities and interfere with our personal and professional relationships. Mental illnesses can also be among the most challenging types of conditions to study, due to the extremely diverse nature of these diseases, which often require personalized treatment plans and patients sometimes trying several different treatment plans, including different medicines, before finding the individualized treatment plan that works best for them.
Women face a greater burden of mental illness with twice as many women as men suffering from anxiety, depression and eating disorders. The COVID-19 pandemic has also widened the gender gap in terms of mental health stressors that adversely impact women. Research shows while the COVID-19 pandemic has had a negative impact on the mental health of all Americans, women are reported to bear a disproportionate share. Gender roles, family caregiving responsibilities for children and elderly family members, combined with workforce participation all contribute to unique mental health challenges faced by women. Our recent Medicines in Development for Women’s Health: 2022 Report found there are 45 medicines in development for mental illness, offering hope for patients and their families.
As policymakers look to lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic, one such consideration is recognizing that telehealth services, when used appropriately, can provide crucial support for those needing access to critical health care services in harder-to-reach areas. Throughout the pandemic, telehealth has played a vital role in supporting patient access to needed mental health counseling and treatment services when in-person routine visits were not always possible. Better understanding is needed of the potential role that telehealth, and other tools, can play in supporting access to mental health care, and other needed health care services more broadly, for patients in rural areas by reducing challenges related to travel for specialty care and other logistical issues.
We must also pursue innovative solutions that address financial barriers to care. The public health toll of mental illness costs the U.S. more than $317 billion annually in lost wages, health care expenditures and disability benefits. Our inaugural Patient Experience Survey found that 27% of Americans with mental health challenges experience significant concerns about access to needed health care. The survey also found that those suffering from physical disabilities and other serious health conditions experienced the greatest anxiety about affording care.
Recognizing the challenges and burden imposed by mental illnesses, PhRMA member companies have remained committed to applying the latest scientific knowledge to researching and developing new treatments for a wide range of conditions. Specifically, biopharmaceutical companies are advancing research into the underlying causes of mental illnesses and pursuing biomarkers that could help clinicians identify mental health disorders earlier. Understanding the origin and underlying disease pathology of mental illness could also lead to more targeted and effective treatments. A range of existing treatment approaches are available to patients to help improve their quality of life with more in clinical development.
In recognition of Mental Health Awareness Month, PhRMA is proud to sponsor a virtual event with The 19th on Wednesday, May 11. The event will include a constructive dialogue with practitioners, policymakers and thought leaders on how society can prioritize mental health and find bipartisan solutions to address this emerging public health threat facing the U.S.
For more information and registration, click here.