By Carli Friedman, CQL Director of Research
The stress and trauma of the COVID-19 pandemic led to significant increases in anxiety, stress, and depression in the general population; social minorities were particularly adversely impacted. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2020) found 31% of adults in the United States had symptoms of anxiety or depression. While people with disabilities faced increased barriers and risks during the pandemic, less is known about people with disabilities’ experiences during the pandemic, including related to the stress and trauma they experienced.
The aim of this study was to explore the mental health of Medicare beneficiaries with disabilities during the pandemic. To do so, we analyzed data from 65,639 (unweighted) people with disabilities under 65 who were Medicare beneficiaries (2020-2021). The data were weighted to align with population demographics.
We found that almost half of Medicare beneficiaries with disabilities (43.3%) had symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder during the pandemic, and more than one-third (36.8%) had symptoms of major depressive disorder. The following Medicare beneficiaries with disabilities were more likely to have anxiety and/or depression during the pandemic: people who lived with children; females; White people; people with some college; separated people; lower income people; and people who were also Medicaid beneficiaries (dual eligible).
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Major Depressive Disorder
In addition, 15.3% of Medicare beneficiaries with disabilities reported that they needed counseling/therapy services during the pandemic but were unable to get it. The following Medicare beneficiaries with disabilities were more likely to not get needed counseling/therapy: White people; people with Bachelor’s degrees or higher; separated people; people with incomes of less than $75,000; and people who were also Medicaid beneficiaries (dual eligible).
Did Not Get Needed Counseling/Therapy
“While the disability community is a resilient one, isolation, unemployment, financial insecurity, increased risk of death, the needs and voices of the community being ignored, and other forms of ableist discrimination and oppression all adversely impact people with disabilities’ mental health; this is important to recognize during the pandemic, and beyond” (Friedman, 2021, p. 15).
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). Mental health, substance use, and suicidal ideation during the COVID-19 pandemic — United States, June 24–30, 2020. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 69(32), 1049-1057.
- Friedman, C. (2021). The mental health of Medicare beneficiaries with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Rehabilitation Psychology. https://doi.org/10.1037/rep0000427