A third of Americans claim this is the worst season for their mental health

How difficult was 2020? Enough that more than one out of every six Americans started therapy for the first time, new research suggests. According to a recent study of 2,000 U.S. adults, these therapy converts join the third of Americans (31%) who'd either continued or returned to therapy over the last year. Fifteen percent are also taking medication for mental health for the first time as of 2020, and another 15% have changed or increased an existing prescription during that same time frame. Despite this, many Americans still appear to hold conflicting beliefs and stigmas about mental health treatment — 47%, for example, believe that seeking therapy is a sign of weakness. Conducted by Onepoll on behalf of Vida Health, the survey also revealed that only a quarter of respondents (27%) have never been to a therapist in their lifetime — suggesting that mental health care has become a more common experience for many Americans than previously assumed. In fact, 45% considered getting mental health treatment because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and only 15% believe that the pandemic has had no meaningful negative impact on their mental health. And with winter in full swing, things may not improve any time soon — 62% say they usually feel more depressed this time of year, with a third of respondents (32%) saying it's consistently the worst season for their mental health. Meanwhile, 30% of those who aren't in therapy said that it's because they don't think their problems are "big enough," and 32% said they can "handle their problems on their own." "My 'depression' is a direct result of the pandemic, not an ongoing condition," one respondent remarked. For Vida Health's Chief Clinical Officer Chris Mosunic, PhD, this line of thinking comes as no surprise. "Americans often place other priorities above their own mental health needs, not just because of stigma but because of time," said Dr. Mosunic. "They often see work, home and social responsibilities as being more important than their personal health and well-being. But just as they tell you on airplanes when the oxygen masks come down, we can't help others if we don't take care ourselves first." Out of those polled, men (35%), Midwesterners (53%) baby boomers aged 65+ (74%) were more likely to have never been to therapy — although surprisingly, boomers were also the least likely to equate therapy with weakness (10%). Boomers who do have therapeutic experience are also less likely to rely on technology, as only 23% said they had any experience with virtual treatment options. In contrast, 40% of those who've sought treatment have done so virtually — roughly the same number as people who've gotten help in-person (40%), suggesting a surge in virtual therapy since the pandemic began. But regardless of their experience with therapy, 88% of those polled said they've experienced at least one of the symptoms that medical professionals use to assess mental health, such as having "little interest or pleasure in doing things" (52%), "having trouble falling or staying asleep" (52%) and "feeling down, depressed or hopeless" (51%). "Many people don't feel comfortable with therapy for a variety of reasons," Dr. Mosunic noted. "While cognitive behavioral therapy is the fastest path towards relieving moderate anxiety or depression, there are still plenty of other ways to improve your mental health. Some of the self-help tools I often suggest are having a daily exercise routine, improving your sleep health and incorporating some mindfulness-based stress reduction techniques, like breathing exercises or a 'body scan.' "The bottom line is that there are many ways to improve your mental well being," he added. "You just have to choose a path you feel comfortable with and can take ownership of." For many Americans, these practices are already having an impact: 59% of respondents are more interested in mindfulness now than they were before the pandemic, and 60% feel more aware of and in touch with their emotions than ever before. 2020's 5 WORST MENTAL HEALTH MONTHS May (15%) April (15%) March (13%) June (9%) December (8%) MOST POPULAR FORMS OF THERAPY Virtual therapy (40%) In-person therapy (40%) Counselling (38%) Talk therapy (35%) Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or CBT (27%) Text therapy (25%) Psychodynamic therapy (22%) Dialectical Behavioral Therapy or DBT (20%) Humanistic therapy (18%) Couples therapy (17%)