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Only frequent church attendees avoided downward mental health trend in 2020

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CNA Staff, Dec 11, 2020 / 12:09 am MT (CNA).- Americans who attend religious services weekly are the only demographic group appearing to show improved mental health in 2020, despite the stresses of the coronavirus pandemic and other events, says a new survey.

The survey otherwise shows significant self-reported mental health declines among those previously in excellent health.

In 2019, about 42% of those who reported attending religious services weekly told Gallup that their mental health was excellent. In 2020, 46% said the same, an increase of 4 percentage points. Only 35% of those who attend services nearly weekly or monthly reported excellent mental health, down 12 percentage points from last year. Among those who attend seldom or never, 29% reported excellent mental health, down 13 percentage points.

While coronavirus restrictions have often limited peoples’ ability to attend religious services, the Gallup survey did not ask respondents whether they faced such limits.

Overall, respondents reporting excellent health declined from 43% to 34%, while those who reported excellent or good health declined from 85% to 76%. About 18% reported fair mental health while 5% reported poor mental health.

Gallup has conducted the same November Health and Healthcare Survey every year since 2001. The latest Gallup survey was conducted Nov. 5-19. Its random sample of 1,018 U.S. adults age 18 and older claims a margin of error of plus or minus 4% for the total sample.

The coronavirus has killed some 290,000 Americans – generally the elderly and those with vulnerable health – and hospitalized even more. The virus and restrictions aiming to limit its spread have hindered social and economic life as well as mental health care. Unemployment and underemployment rates have soared.

The year 2020 also witnessed a controversial presidential election, protests against coronavirus restrictions, demonstrations against police after the death of George Floyd, and major civil unrest, riots and vandalism throughout the United States.

Survey responses of self-reported excellent mental health are “eight points lower than Gallup has measured in any prior year,” the polling company said Dec. 7.

The other demographic group showing little change in excellent mental health was by partisan affiliation: Democrats were down only 1 percentage point from last year, compared to other partisan groups. However, only 29% of Democrats self-reported excellent mental health, compared to independents, who were down 11 points to 32%, and Republicans, who were down 15 points to 41%.

Demographic groups which tended to report excellent mental health the most were those making $100,000 or more, those aged 50 to 64, married people, and men. Those groups which tended not to report excellent mental health were those making under $40,000, those aged 18-29, the unmarried, and women.

“These demographic patterns have been mostly consistent over the past 20 years,” Gallup said.

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