COVID-19 hasn’t just affected people’s physical health. The pandemic has also had a profound and prolonged impact on people’s mental health. Over the last year, more and more people have reached out for help dealing with stress, anxiety or depression.
Our team of analysts found that the number of people taking prescription mental health medication has steadily increased since the beginning of the pandemic. More than 65 million Americans are now taking prescription mental health medication — that’s 1 out of every 5 people. These numbers should not be stigmatized or taken lightly because they point to the serious impact COVID-19 is having on Americans’ mental health.
- Nationwide, 18 states have seen 10%-20% increases in the number of people taking prescription mental health medication in the last year.
- Colorado, West Virginia and Montana had the largest increases in people taking mental health medication.
- Kentucky, New Jersey and Nebraska saw the largest decreases in the number of people taking mental health medication.
- The number of men prescribed mental health medication increased by 11.3% over the last year.
- Nearly 65 million people (1 in 5) are currently taking prescription mental health medication.
Nationwide, the average number of people taking prescription mental health medication has gone up by nearly 6.5% in the last eight months. This increase, however, varies significantly from state to state.
|State||% increase in people taking prescription mental health medication (Aug 2020-March 2021)||Average % of people taking prescription mental health medication|
|United States Average||6.4%||19.7%|
The increase in prescriptions for mental health medications also crosses traditional demographic lines. We found that while the number of men and people of color taking mental health medication increased the most, nearly 20% of women and people who identify as white were already taking prescription medications for mental health.
The rise in prescriptions for mental health medications coincides with a growing trend we have been following since before the COVID-19 pandemic began. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the average number of people who took medication for mental health reasons was 15.8% in 2019. That same average is now 19.7%. The ongoing pandemic has been and continues to be a time of great uncertainty; people should be applauded for having the courage to reach out and ask for help. If you or someone you know is struggling during this difficult time, please consider reaching out to one of the organizations below.
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
- 1 (866) 615-6464
- NIMH website
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)
- 1 (800) 662 - 4357 (24hrs)
- SAMHSA website
National Alliance on Mental Illness
- 1 (800) 950 - 6264
Most insurance plans cover some form of mental health care. Coverage varies, but this often includes access to therapy, counseling and prescription drug coverage. Additionally, both Medicare and all Affordable Care Act (ACA or Obamacare) marketplace plans are required to cover mental health services.
To determine the percentage increase in the number of people taking prescription mental health medication, we analyzed Pulse Survey data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The data range went from Aug. 19, 2020 to March 15, 2021.