142: America’s Alarming Stress Levels

Dr. Vaile Wright, Senior Director of Healthcare Innovation for the American Psychological Association, explains a new poll that shows Americans are suffering from alarming levels of stress due to COVID-19, inflation, and war in Eastern Europe; Jim...

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Dr. Vaile Wright, Senior Director of Healthcare Innovation for the American Psychological Association, explains a new poll that shows Americans are suffering from alarming levels of stress due to COVID-19, inflation, and war in Eastern Europe; Jim Blumenstock, a retired member of ASTHO’s senior leadership team, recalls the moment at the start of the pandemic when the organization sent everyone home; HHS offers $3 billion in grants to improve public health infrastructure, workforce, and data systems; and there’s still time to register for ASTHO’s latest Insight and Inspiration event with Dr. Bruce Perry.

APA News Release: Inflation, war push stress to alarming levels at two-year COVID-19 anniversary

HHS Infrastructure, Workforce, and Data Systems Grant Announcement

ASTHO Insight and Inspiration Series: Dr. Bruce Perry

ASTHO logo



This is Public Health Review Morning Edition for Monday, March 21st, 2022. I'm Robert Johnson.

Now, today's news from the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.


COVID-19, inflation, and the war in Eastern Europe have resulted in alarming stress levels among people here in the U.S.; that's according to a new Harris Poll commissioned by the American Psychological Association. Dr. Vaile Wright is the APA's senior director of healthcare innovation. She examines the polls findings in today's morning conversation.

Can you summarize the findings of this latest Harris Poll done for the APA? Looking at it, it seems that Americans are pretty stressed out right now.


Absolutely. I mean, although concerns about the pandemic have decreased, we found that over 80% of Americans said that inflation and issues related to the invasion of Ukraine are significant sources of stress. And those are the highest percentages reported about any source of stress that we've asked about in the 15 year history of stress in America.


Short of waving a magic wand to make these problems go away, what can APA and ASTHO, among others, do about this crisis?


Well, we can't just expect individuals to self-care their way out of this—even though self care is really truly important. We really need to be thinking about how can we get systems to change to better support our emotional wellbeing and our mental health.

So, one obvious example would be the healthcare system: so how can we as organizations support increased and expanded access to care; how can we support and advocate for more preventative services so that we're actually reaching people before they're in crisis—because almost by then, it's too late.


Considering the concerns and the work that needs to be done, do you see any relief in sight?


I'm optimistically optimistic, let's say. I do think that we are having conversations about mental health that have been spurred on by the pandemic in ways that I've never seen in the past, and I think that's hopeful, especially if those conversations continue.

And where I'm seeing the most energy is within employers, and employers really understanding because of the pandemic how important it is for their employees to have strong mental health and emotional wellbeing and a psychologically healthy workplace in order to be the best employees that they can have. And when we don't have those systems in place to support employees, they leave organizations, and that has a really negative effect on businesses.

So, I do think that as APA and other organizations can bring the psychological science to these employers to help them understand how to create more psychologically healthy workplaces. And that gives me some hope because that's where we spend most of our time.


How can the data from the poll help achieve that goal?


I think it's a wake up call for everyone to just see how incredibly stressed people are; and a lot of that stress then has, we know, negative, physical and emotional consequences. And those, again, have a negative impact for everybody within our communities, within our country.

We can't continue to sustain these levels of stress over time and expect there to not be significant consequences. So, I'm hopeful that this data will really kind of wake people up and think, "Okay, what can I do for myself, and what can I ask of others in my environment to really support my emotional wellbeing?"


Read more about the poll using the link in the show notes.


Two years ago this month, lives were dramatically changed with the arrival of the COVID-19 virus to America's shores. Schools, businesses, and governments all closed.

Jim Blumenstock was part of ASTHO's senior leadership team when the decision was made to send everyone home on March 13th, 2020.


So, we made the best of it. And I think, you know, it also provided a great opportunity for mutual benefit. Because, you know, staff who respond to a disaster or a national crisis or a global pandemic like this, you're not only responders, but in many respects, you're affected parties and sometimes victims. And, you know, staff had young children at home, they were caregivers to elderly parents or other family members.

So, for them to maintain that balance of having this high-intensity aggressive response to the crisis, as well as take care of things at home—by allowing staff to actually stay home, it really increased their ability to maintain sanity, a little bit of sort of that home-grown warmth that they needed, and the responsibility that they had for their family members.

So, really tried to capitalize on that and creating an environment where staff could do what they had to do at home, but still make great contributions to ASTHO as we supported the national effort.



Also, we have two reminders as you start your week.

First, HHS is looking to invest $3 billion in proposals to improve public health infrastructure, workforce, and data systems. States are among those eligible to apply for the funding. applications are due June 13th. There's a link to the grant announcement in the show notes.

Also, you still have time to register for Wednesday's Insight and Inspiration event with Dr. Bruce Perry. He'll discuss moral injury and the public health workforce. Don't miss the chance to hear his engaging message. You never know, he might talk about how he wrote a book with Oprah or his affection for bears—the four-footed variety, of course. Look for the registration link in the show notes.


Before we go, we want to remind you to leave us a rating and a review—they help raise our profile, and that makes it easier for new listeners to find us online. Also, if you follow the show, you'll never miss a single report. You can do all of this on channel you're listening to right now.


That'll do it for today's newscast. We are back tomorrow morning with more ASTHO news and information.

I'm Robert Johnson. You're listening to Public Health Review Morning Edition. Have a great day.

Vaile Wright PhD

Senior Director, Health Care Innovation, American Psychological Association

James Blumenstock

Former Chief Program Officer, Public Health Practice, ASTHO