Nearly four years after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. population is still experiencing "collective trauma," a new survey suggests.
The American Psychological Association (APA), headquartered in Washington, D.C., has released the results of Stress in America 2023, its nationwide survey that polled more than 3,185 U.S. adults about their physical and mental well-being.
Adults between the ages of 35 and 44 reported the highest spike in chronic health conditions since the pandemic, rising from 48% in 2019 to 58% in 2023, according to an APA press release.
That age group also saw the biggest increase in mental heath illnesses, led by anxiety and depression, rising from 31% in 2019 to 45% in 2023.
Even so, adults between 18 and 34 years old still had the highest rate of mental illness, at 50% in 2023.
Despite the fact that 66% of adults reported having a chronic illness, 81% of them said their physical health was "good, very good or excellent."
The same dichotomy was shown for mental illness, with 37% of adults reporting a diagnosis but 81% saying their mental health was "good, very good or excellent."
"Although we appear to be back to normal since the COVID-19 pandemic, Americans are experiencing greater levels of stress and reporting higher levels of physical and mental health challenges," said Arthur C. Evans Jr., PhD, APA’s chief executive officer, in a statement to Fox News Digital.
He added, "The survey shows that the nation continues to experience psychological distress post-COVID. The loss of more than one million Americans and massive disruptions in our workplaces, schools and the broader culture have taken their toll on the mental health of many."
The survey revealed that more people are reporting chronic health conditions such as high blood pressure, anxiety and depression than before the pandemic, Evans noted.
Financial and economic issues also rose for adults ages 35 to 44, with money-induced stress rising from 65% to 77% and economy-related concerns rising from 51% to 74% since the pandemic.
Compared to pre-COVID, parents were more likely to experience financial strain in their households (46% compared to 34%) and fights about money increased by 28%, the survey results showed.
They also reported that they were more likely to "feel consumed" by money-related concerns, rising from 39% in 2019 to 66% in 2023.
Despite the high stress levels, many survey respondents "downplayed" their stress, the release noted.
Sixty-seven percent of the adults said their problems aren’t "bad enough" to be stressed about, and another 62% said they don’t discuss their stress with others to avoid burdening them.
Parents of children under 18 seemed to experience the highest levels of stress, with 48% saying that their stress is "completely overwhelming" most days, compared to 26% in 2019.
The share of parents who said their stress keeps them from functioning rose from 20% pre-pandemic to 41% in 2023.
"Stress affects all systems of the body, so it is crucial that Americans know the serious impacts of stress and what they can do to reduce the effect of stressors in their life, as well as seek help from their health care providers and support systems to prevent further health conditions," Evans said.
To help boost mental wellness, he said nurturing healthy and supportive relationships is key.
"Particularly during periods of prolonged stress, it’s important that we facilitate opportunities for social connection and support," Evans said.
Dr. Marc Siegel, clinical professor of medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center and a Fox News medical contributor, was not involved in the APA’s poll but said he did not find the results surprising.
"The rise in chronic illness and mental illness among adults aged 35 to 44 is clearly due to the stress and anxiety provoked by lockdowns and mandates, fear of the virus and the rampant divisiveness," he told Fox News Digital.
This particular age group was likely most worried about their futures amid business closures and a faltering economy, Siegel noted.
"On top of this, a sedentary lifestyle, less exercise, poor diet, more smoking and alcohol, and increased stress during the pandemic led to more [incidences of] high blood pressure, heart disease, strokes and cancer, as well as diabetes, lung disease and depression," the doctor said.
Another potential factor is that long COVID can affect multiple organs, including the brain, said Siegel.