GoodRx: COVID-19 worsening behavioral health conditions

A new GoodRx study highlights how much COVID-19 is worsening behavioral health symptoms. (dragana991/Getty Images)

The pandemic is having a significant impact on people who were already living with behavioral health conditions prior to the spread of the virus, new data from GoodRx show.

The analysis found prescription fills for depression and anxiety medications reached an all-time high this year. Fills for such drugs have been on the rise since 2016 and reached a peak in April of this year.

In addition, GoodRx found that 63% of the 1,000 people surveyed said their anxiety and/or depression symptoms were either "worse" or "much worse" over the course of the year. Twenty-eight percent said their symptoms were the same, and less than 10% said their symptoms had improved under the pandemic.

Tori Marsh, director of research at GoodRx and one of the study's authors, said the findings suggest there could be lingering effects beyond the pandemic on people's health as a result of worsening mental health.

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For example, a lack of motivation to eat well or exercise that is made worse by the stress of COVID-19 could lead to increases in obesity and diabetes risk, she said. Nearly half (49%) of those surveyed reported struggling with the motivation to exercise or eat healthy.

In addition, 20% said they had trouble managing another illness due to the pandemic, which could also have notable impacts once the pandemic ends.

"I think there’s going to be a lot of downstream effects from this that we’re not really thinking about at this point," Marsh said.

Other challenges reported in the survey include an increase in the frequency of thoughts of self-harm, with 15% saying they experienced this. Plus, 39% said they experienced panic attacks more frequently because of the pandemic.

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Marsh said the study also suggests people are self-medicating for their conditions as the pandemic wears on. Seven percent of those surveyed said they had turned to recreational drugs or alcohol due to their depression or anxiety symptoms.

The survey also found that 15% said they were taking anxiety or depression medications that were not prescribed to them, Marsh said.

The heightened struggles with behavioral health needs are not likely to end with the pandemic, she said.

"Likely this is going to last well beyond the pandemic," Marsh said. "It’s going to take a while for us to get fully back on our feet."