With coronavirus cutting jobs and social ties, El Paso County residents say they're feeling lonely and sad, with younger people struggling with their emotional well-being more than those older than 50, a new survey found.

An AskCOS survey conducted by Elevated Insights and released last week found residents’ emotional and mental health have been the most negatively affected during the pandemic. About half of the 1,001 El Paso County residents surveyed were battling worsened emotional well-being and mental health since its start, results show.

Forty-one percent of respondents said their emotional well-being was somewhat worse than it was before the crisis, and 8% said it was much worse. Only 12% said their emotional well-being was somewhat better and 4% said it was much better than before the pandemic. The remaining 35% said it was the same.

Additionally, 35% of respondents said their mental health was somewhat worse and 10% said it was much worse. Only 9% of respondents said their mental health was somewhat better, and 4% said it was much better than it had been.

Those results aren’t surprising, said Lori Jarvis-Steinwert, executive director of the National Alliance of Mental Health affiliate in Colorado Springs.

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“The thing that’s so different about this pandemic is that almost every one of us has been affected by it in some way,” she said.

Residents ages 18 to 49 were more likely to have worse mental health than those 50 and older, and residents between the ages of 18 and 29 were more likely to have much worse mental health than all other age groups, the study found. Residents 45 and younger without children were also significantly more likely to have worse mental health than others.

El Paso County is “disproportionately young” compared to the United States as a whole, said Debbie Balch, president of Elevated Insights, and the pandemic “has taken a harder mental and emotional toll on younger residents who were probably much more social and active, and maybe don’t have the life experience to handle the effects.”

Data from a 2019 Census American Community Survey show the average age of residents in El Paso County is 34.5, compared to the nationwide average of 38.2. Thirty-five percent of county residents are younger than 25, and 27% are between the ages of 18 and 34, Balch said.

“That’s a lot more than the national average of 23%. It’s only four percentage points, but it makes a difference” in residents’ perception of their health, she said.

That perception is also relative, Balch said. “We have a fit and active community, so maybe someone is used to riding their bike 35 miles a week and since the pandemic they’re down to only 20 miles a week. They’re still relatively healthy, but they feel worse because it’s not what they’re used to.”

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Seventy-five percent of respondents said community assistance during the pandemic would help their household. Thirty-five percent requested mental health and well-being services, while 33% requested opportunities for safe social interactions with others.

Financial assistance was identified among the top types of aid requested by most residents, with 22% of those surveyed saying they want help paying mortgage or rent, and 24% wanting help paying other monthly bills.

This year, 33% of 1,001 El Paso County residents saw their income increase, which is slightly more than the 29% who saw a decrease, results show. Residents between the ages of 18 and 39 were more likely to have their income increase. Women, residents living downtown, those with a household income of $50,000 or less, residents with lower education, and residents with worse physical health, mental health and emotional well-being were all significantly more likely to have their income decrease.

Those worse off now financially were significantly more likely to prioritize assistance with paying mortgage or rent, assistance paying other monthly bills, providing food assistance, prohibiting disconnection of utilities and prohibiting evictions. Residents doing the same or better financially were more likely to prioritize opportunities for safe social interaction, offering virtual entertainment and assisting local small businesses.

“This is uncharted territory and I’d have to hope we can snap back, but I can’t say that with confidence,” Balch said. “I would say that residents are hurting.”

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The pandemic also halted a wide variety of activities, including socializing, which could contribute to feelings of lowered mental and emotional health, Balch and Jarvis-Steinwert said.

Before the pandemic, 94% of respondents were socializing in person with small groups of friends or family. Of 997 residents who responded, 66% stopped or reduced socializing in person with friends or family. Of 964 respondents, 43% resumed socializing with friends or family, the study found.

“A lot of socializing is done on social media and while that helps, it’s not the same as being one-on-one or in a small group of people in your social circle,” Jarvis-Steinwert said.

Changes in employment also hit residents hard this year. Half of the 1,001 residents surveyed said they were working the same job as they were prior to the pandemic, but more than 25% experienced workplace hardships because of COVID-19.

Of 731 working residents surveyed, 7.8% had been furloughed, 6.3% took an additional job, and 6.2% had been laid off, survey results show. Four percent of working residents surveyed quit their jobs, and 3.8% changed industries.

Of 58 residents who were furloughed, 59% were back to work and working the same number of hours as before the pandemic. Results show 29% of temporarily furloughed employees were back to work but were working a reduced number of hours or for reduced pay, while 8% were still furloughed.

Of 44 residents surveyed who were laid off during COVID-19, 42% of them were still not working, but were looking for new employment. About half of them have been looking for a new job for three to six months, the study found.

Jarvis-Steinwert said it’s possible we’ll feel better soon. She pointed to increased vaccinations and an increased sense of physical protection, warmer weather on the horizon, and the possibility that Americans will see more high-profile campaigns with information about how to care for their mental, emotional and physical health during the pandemic.

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Residents can also turn to their friends and family for support.

“There’s a lot of resilience we can tap into in our community,” she said. “If ever we’ve had a call to help fight the stigma of poor mental health, it’s now.”

To view the full survey results, visit bit.ly/3iA7CY2.

 

Reporter

Breeanna Jent covers El Paso County and the state of Colorado. She previously worked as the editorial assistant for the Pikes Peak Newspapers and joined their sister paper, The Gazette, in 2020.

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