KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Tennessee has hit another pandemic-related record. Numbers from the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) show the state ranks No. 1 in adults with anxiety or depression symptoms.
The data comes from regular surveys. The most recent ended August 30. It found 41.7% of adults in Tennessee are experiencing symptoms of anxiety or depression. Louisiana had the second-highest percentage at 39.3%. Alabama took the No. 3 spot, with 38.5% of adults there experiencing those symptoms.
The current average nationally is 32.1%, down from 41.1% recorded during the first week of 2021.
Ben Harrington, CEO of the Mental Health Association of East Tennessee, estimated one in five people in Knox County needed mental healthcare prior to the pandemic. “That would be enough to fill Neyland Stadium once,” he said. “Because of the pandemic impact, and it is pretty substantial, the prevalence actually shifted from one in five to two in five.”
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As COVID-19 continues to spread across the country, so do these symptoms. Harrington thinks the problem will build as people continue feeling uncertainty surrounding their health, job, and their children’s school. “Some people may have developed symptoms last year and it was their very first episode, so they did not recognize symptoms and then they receded,” he said.
Harrington warned letting those symptoms go untreated can actually cause them to worsen. “When symptoms onset with somebody, it’s like the ocean tide coming in, and then they recede, and it comes in, and it recedes,” he explained.
It’s why he recommends getting screened if you, or those around you, notice changes in behavior such as excessive worrying, or changes to your personality, including irritability or withdrawal.
“If someone is worrying too much about coping with all this stuff, with working, not working, losing a job. If they’re losing sleep over have they been exposed, will they be exposed, those are classic indicators of we need to find out if they have a need — Let’s find out what it is so we then can take the next step to find out where can we get that person the help they might need so they can live successfully with whatever the condition might be,” he added.
Prior to the pandemic, the MHAET screened around 3,000 people a year, stretching from Chattanooga, Knoxville, and the Tri-Cities. The number climbed to more than 10,000 in 2021. Harrington noted this year is on pace to reach between 12,000-13,000 screenings.