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Report: Virginia Mental Distress Soars Even Before Pandemic

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Tuesday, January 19, 2021   

RICHMOND, Va. -- An annual report examining social, economic and environmental impacts on the nation's health shows the number of Virginians suffering from mental distress increased dramatically between 2014 and 2019, even before the pandemic.

Dr. Rhonda Randall, chief medical officer for United Healthcare, said the state's 27% rise compares with just 11% nationally.

She explained the number measures people who said they felt down or depressed 14 or more days out of the last 30, and she pointed out folks likely have become even more troubled since COVID-19 hit last spring.

"We do know from other reports that rates of suicide and rates of drug death overdoses in 2020 were up," Randall observed. "So that is concerning. I expect to see that many measures in this report will be affected by the pandemic, particularly the socioeconomic measures."

The report showed some bright spots for Virginians. Smoking decreased 33% between 2011 and 2019, from about 21% to 14% of adults. That's compared with about a 17% drop across the nation.

The study measures health areas across a wide spectrum including air and water quality, clinical care, social support and behaviors such as sexual health.

For the 31 years United Healthcare has conducted the report, Randall noted Virginia has continually ranked in the top half of the nation, although this year researchers did not release state rankings.

"Virginia ranks first in the nation for a low rate of drinking water violations," Randall confirmed. "Clean and good water is important to our health. [Virginia is] sixth in the nation for low rates of violent crime, seventh in the nation for low residential segregation."

Nationally, the percentage of adults over 65 suffering from multiple chronic conditions like diabetes and obesity improved 5% between 2018 and 2019.

But nearly 10% of American adults have enough chronic conditions that may make them immunocompromised and more susceptible to COVID-19.

Disclosure: United Healthcare contributes to our fund for reporting on Health Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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