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As The Pandemic Eases, Mental Health Issues Remain For New Yorkers

crying mental health
Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

A Siena College poll this week has found that nearly half of New Yorkers said the pandemic has negatively affected their mental health. According to the statewide survey of 751 New York voters, half said they often felt down, depressed and hopeless over this past year as a result of the pandemic.

April Backus, the poll’s associate director, said many of those surveyed also identified the social and political unrest in the country as a root cause for their declining mental health.

The poll found that more people in New York City and its suburbs had higher percentages of mental health issues than the upstate region. Researchers said that could be because the city is more close quarters, meaning more exposure to other people who may be sick, while upstate New York is generally more spread out.

“Mental health is not just the presence or absence of a disorder,” Backus said. “Rather, mental health is a continuum of wellness. This means that a person's mental health and well being can fluctuate based on the day, based on interactions. They have stress that's in their life. Overall life experiences and big stressors such as a pandemic can have a big impact on how a person feels, behaves and acts as well.”

Siena researchers received training from the Mental Health Association in New York State, a partner in conducting the poll. Backus said she learned that there’s a 10-year gap between the time that a person may experience mental health concern and the time that they seek treatment. She said she hoped that the poll’s results could be used to help close this gap in response to living through the 14 months since the pandemic has started.

Glenn Liebman, CEO of the state mental health group, said it’s unfortunate that the majority of respondents are reluctant to seek out treatment because they can’t afford the services, and they fear being judged.

“We should be eliminating the stigma. We should normalize mental health — that it's no different than physical health. I break my arm. I go to the doctor. I get it fixed. They get patched up. I'm moving forward in my life,” Liebman said. “I have depression. I have anxiety — I go to the doctor.”

Despite this, 85% of New Yorkers surveyed said they are optimistic that they will soon fully recover with COVID-19 restrictions being lifted.

A native Long Islander, J.D. is WSHU's managing editor. He also hosts the climate podcast Higher Ground. J.D. reports for public radio stations across the Northeast, is a journalism educator and proud SPJ member.