The Emotional and Mental Impact of COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted everyone’s lives in 2020. However, recent evidence shows it may have effects beyond the inconveniences and interruptions to daily life.

New research shows that the pandemic is impacting many people’s mental health. In March, a survey found that 32 percent of American adults felt their mental health had been negatively impacted by COVID-19. By July, the portion of people who answered that way had risen to 53 percent.1

How the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted mental health

Prolonged exposure to stress is known to negatively impact mental health. COVID-19 has caused many sources of stress. Some sources are directly related to the disease. Many people fear themselves or their loved ones becoming sick or dying.2,3

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The pandemic also creates secondary causes of stress and uncertainty. Quarantining can lead to feelings of isolation or loneliness. The pandemic and resulting shutdowns have also caused economic problems and job loss. Job loss is linked to depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem.1-3

Other secondary stressors are less obvious but still impactful. The pandemic has caused some people to feel a loss of freedom. People also report feeling uncertain about the future or general feelings of helplessness.2

These increased stressors can impact people in different ways. It can cause unhealthy behaviors like substance abuse or lead to mental illnesses like anxiety or depression.3

Who may be impacted by COVID-19-related mental health problems?

Anyone’s mental health can be impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, research shows there are some groups that face a higher risk.

Older adults or people with pre-existing conditions have a higher risk of COVID-19 complications. Knowledge of the health risk can increase fear and stress in these people.3

Older adults are already at a higher risk for poor mental health. They have higher rates of loneliness and more experiences with death and loss. However, adults over 65 are less likely to report feelings of depression or anxiety.1

Young adults and children can also face mental health impacts from the pandemic. One study found that children ages 3 to 18 were at risk of developing symptoms of anxiety during quarantine. Many students also lost mental health services provided by schools when they moved online. Mental health in young adults is especially important because they have higher risks of suicidal tendencies and substance abuse.1,3

Healthcare workers have had their own significant set of challenges brought on by COVID-19. Studies on healthcare workers who treat COVID-19 patients have found high rates of depression, anxiety, insomnia, and distress.2

COVID-19 has had an undeniable impact on mental health, but there are ways to combat these effects.

Ways to ease the COVID-19 pandemic’s mental impact

Despite all the negative impacts COVID-19 has on mental health, there are some positives. The pandemic caused quick development in remote and online therapy options. This switch may help some people get mental health care more easily.2

Moving therapy online can help make it less of a time commitment for patients. Online therapy can be an option for people who had transportation problems unrelated to COVID-19. Online therapy may also be more comfortable for some people. People can attend a session from their own home, a safe space. The online barrier can also cause people to feel more removed from their therapist and make them more likely to open up.2

Beyond therapy, there are other options for managing your mental health during the pandemic. A variety of healthy habits can all help, including:4

  • Meditating
  • Exercising
  • Keeping up a daily routine
  • Staying connected with friends and family
  • Limiting your news intake

If you need help or more resources, check out the COVID-19 Resource and Information Guide from the National Alliance on Mental Illness. This page lists hotlines, online support communities, and more tips for healthy living. The COVID-19 pandemic has been difficult for most, but there are resources for handling the mental health effects.4

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