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One in two Kansans’ mental health impacted since pandemic, poll finds

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Deborah Shaar
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KMUW/File photo
Comcare's Community Crisis Center provides 24/7 services for people in a mental health or substance use crisis in Sedgwick County.

That’s according to findings from a statewide poll by Fort Hays State University released Tuesday.

About 50% of Kansans said their mental health has been impacted since the pandemic.

That’s according to a new poll by Fort Hays State University’s Docking Institute of Public Affairs. Half of those surveyed also said their family’s mental health has been affected since the pandemic.

“Going through a national crisis like we did during the height of the pandemic, it really brought to the forefront how important mental wellness is in our overall health,” said Jessica Provines, the chief psychologist at Wichita State University.

Provines said the disruption to routines, relationships and community during the pandemic may have all had an impact on mental health. She said she isn’t surprised by the poll’s results because the university is seeing record numbers of students seeking appointments from the wellness center this year.

COMCARE, Sedgwick County’s mental health authority, has seen the pandemic’s impact, too.

“We have definitely seen an increase of people who have not sought services in the past, a lot of it having to do with anxiety and depression,” said Joan Tammany, director of COMCARE. “We’re definitely seeing it peaking in youth, particularly teenagers.”

The annual online poll surveyed 520 adults from across the state. It took place between September and October of this year.

The Docking Institute conducts the Kansas Speaks survey to measure statewide public opinion on key issues. This year, the Wichita Journalism Collaborative — with funding support from the Wichita Community Foundation — joined the institute as a co-sponsor of the poll.

The poll’s results follow a national trend of worsening mental health as a result of the pandemic. This spring, the Associated Press reported that about four in 10 adults had symptoms of anxiety and depression in the first year of the pandemic compared to about one in 10 before that.

The outlet also reported the number of high school students nationwide feeling persistently sad or hopeless increased by 7 percentage points since COVID-19.

Kansas is uniquely ill-equipped to handle the crisis: a recent report ranked the state last in the U.S. in mental health problems and treatment. This is, in part, due to barriers to accessing care in the state, KMUW reported.

The Docking Institute poll also found that awareness of mental health issues increased following the pandemic. One in two Kansans strongly agreed or agreed that they are “more aware of my mental health now than before the pandemic.”

That’s one of the few positive outcomes of the pandemic, Tammany said.

“Mental health is on the table now,” Tammany said. “It used to be one of those issues that you really didn’t talk about publicly, and the pandemic provided opportunities to talk about it publicly.”

Elizabeth Sinclair Hancq, director of research for the national Treatment Advocacy Center, said the increase in awareness may be a result of campaigns by state and local governments at the start of the pandemic. Many were created following a spike in calls to crisis lines.

“Many places started mental health awareness campaigns … because there was … so much attention on the isolation and stress around the fear of uncertainty around the pandemic,” Sinclair Hancq said. “As well as the implications of grief and loss and economic [conditions].”

The poll also found that about 44% of Kansans have utilized mental health resources since the pandemic, or know someone who has. About one-third agreed or strongly agreed that they were more likely to access mental health resources going forward coming out of the pandemic.

This story was published as part of the Wichita Journalism Collaborative, a partnership of 10 media partners, including KMUW.

Celia Hack is a general assignment reporter for KMUW. Before KMUW, she worked at The Wichita Beacon covering local government and as a freelancer for The Shawnee Mission Post and the Kansas Leadership Center’s The Journal. She is originally from Westwood, Kansas, but Wichita is her home now.