13% more Kentuckians used prescription drugs for mental health in October than in January, as the pandemic added to stresses

Quote Wizard map, adapted by Ky. Health News, shows increases in adjoining states and Southeast.

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News
Kentucky is one of 28 states that saw an increase of more than 10 percent in the number of adults taking prescription mental-health medications last year, which is largely attributed to the prolonged impact of the pandemic, according to an analysis of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.
“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,” says the report from Quote Wizard, based on Pulse survey data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from January 2021 to Oct. 15, 2021.
The figures show that 29% of Kentucky adults are taking prescription mental-health medications. That amounts to about 1 million people, 13% more than in January 2021.
Kentucky’s rate of increase was less than the national increase of 20%, but the percentage of Kentucky adults taking prescription mental-health drugs remains above the national rate of 24%.
Sheila Schuster, a psychologist and executive director of the Kentucky Mental Health Coalition, said she was “delighted” to see more Kentuckians seeking mental-health care, especially during the pandemic, when every age group is struggling with issues that exacerbate anxiety and depression.
“I think Covid has had potentially devastating effects on the mental health of all ages in Kentucky,” Schuster said. “So I’m delighted actually to see that there has been an increase in contact with mental-health providers. . . . You know, we really want people to reach out, to get some help before things get into a state of multiple, serious mental-health concerns.”
Schuster pointed out some challenges brought on by the pandemic: feelings of not being in control, economic uncertainty, social isolation, remote learning challenges, a shutdown of peer-support services for people with substance-use disorder, and an uptick in domestic violence. Add to that, she said, the racial tension sparked by the Breonna Taylor case in Louisville and the natural disasters that have plagued several other parts of Kentucky.
“Some people are really dealing with what must feel to them like an unbearable amount of stress and grief and loss compounded with this anxiety and depression so, you know, our message has been over and over to reach out for help,” she said.
What is often most effective, particularly for more serious stages of depression or anxiety, Schuster said, is a combination of talk therapy with some medication. To that end, she said the Kentucky Mental Health Coalition, Mental Health America Kentucky and the Kentucky Psychological Association have been writing op-eds and holding public forums to alert people that what they are feeling is not unusual and to encourage them to reach out for some additional help if they need it.
“I think actually we’re going to be seeing the aftermath of Covid for the next four or five years,” she said.
MHA Kentucky Executive Director Marcie Timmerman said MHA has seen a significant increase of interest in mental health and wellness during the pandemic, noting a 265% increase in voluntary mental-health screenings from 2019 to 2021, with 4,770 screenings in 2019 and 17,419 in 2021.

“It makes sense to me, with the increase in talking about mental health that has accompanied Covid-19, that we see an increase in forms of treatment like medications,” Timmerman said.

MHA ranked Kentucky 23rd for prevalence of mental-health illness in 2021, based on six mental-health measures that included both youth and adults.

Timmerman encouraged Kentuckians to keep talking to their health-care providers about their mental health, and reminded providers to remember “that prescriptions are most effective when paired with therapy.”
Schuster added that other than your family doctor, ministers, friends who use mental health care, professional mental-health organizations, like MHA, and community mental-health centers, which serve every Kentucky county, are also good resources to help you find mental health care providers in your area.
The report notes that most insurance plans cover some form of mental-health care, including Medicare and all Affordable Care Act plans.
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