COVID-19 and Mental Health

COVID-19 and Mental Health: A 2021 Update

Mental Health Month is the perfect time to take a step back and a closer look at the state of our own (and collective) mental health after a year of the pandemic.

Disease outbreaks have traditionally been associated with mental health problems, but there’s never been an outbreak quite like COVID-19. And the mental health stats reflect that.

During this blog post we will examine how the pandemic has affected our mental health over the last year.

COVID-19 and Mental Health

COVID-19 was a perfect storm for a widespread increase in mental health challenges all over the world. The pandemic imposed a variety of harsh realities on us all, many of which are potent triggers for mental and emotional hardship.

The subsequent economic crisis, isolation, loss and grief, disruption of routines, loss of employment, food instability – the list goes on and on. All of these factors of the pandemic have increased the need for mental health services immensely. 

Of course, COVID-19 also greatly limited and restricted access to mental health care.

So what happens to a public that’s dealing with a uniquely and historically horrific global disaster? 

They get stressed and anxious. They get depressed. They must endure.

But that is oversimplifying a very complex problem. Let’s put some numbers to these truths for a little more context.

COVID-19 and Mental Health By The Numbers

Last month the CDC reported that during August 2020 – February 2021, 42% of adults had symptoms of an anxiety or depressive disorder during the last 7 days.

This was a significant increase from the previously reported 36% from March 2020 – June 2020.

Similarly, during August 2020 – February 2021, 12% of adults reported an unmet mental health care need in the past 4 weeks. From March 2020 – June 2020, that number was 9%.

As you can see, mental health struggles were more prevalent in the latter part of 2020 and into 2021 than they were during earlier stages of the pandemic. There are many different reasons that could have contributed to this, but it’s difficult to ignore how this data trend reflects the steady increase of COVID-19 cases we saw during that time. It’s a good reminder that the coronavirus, the fear and unknowns attached to this new deadly virus, is still a potent stressor. 

We tend to analyze the impact of societal byproducts of COVID-19 (the economy, employment, isolation, etc.) in a way that sometimes distracts from how viscerally alarming and stress the prospect of a deadly virus is.

COVID-19 and Mental Health

For more context, let’s look at some data the Mental Health America (MHA) has collected over the last year.  

Nearly 3 million people took an MHA mental health screening during the last 12 months. Some of their findings include:

  • 1 million people were experiencing depression
  • Hundreds of thousands were experiencing anxiety or psychosis
  • Young people are finding the pandemic particularly difficult 

That last bullet is an important one to note – the mental health of youths has been particularly exacerbated during the pandemic.

According to the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health at Michigan Medicine, 46% of parents say their teenager showed signs of a new or worsening mental health condition since the start of the pandemic (March 2020).  

COVID-19 restrictions have proven to be especially difficult for young people. Teens rely heavily on their peers and various social outlets for mental wellbeing and emotional support. Disrupting their routines, limiting (or restricting altogether) the time they can spend with friends – these are things that can easily cause young people to feel anxious, frustrated, angry, and disconnected.

If left unchecked, those emotions can contribute to mental health struggles like depression and anxiety.

Research shows that depression and anxiety were the most common pandemic-related mental health conditions, reported by 1 in 3 parents of teen girls and 1 in 5 parents of teen boys.

Fear and uncertainty, along with parental stress, have been identified as three common triggers for teen depression during the pandemic.

Fear and uncertainty are virtually unavoidable during a pandemic. As a result, experts suggest that parents be mindful of transferring their pandemic stress onto their children during this time. 

COVID-19 and Mental Health: An Ongoing Conversation

All of the statistics presented in this article point to the same truth – the pandemic has been extremely difficult and we are all paying for it, mentally and emotionally.

The volume of people experiencing anxiety and depression certainly isn’t a positive thing, but it may help you feel like you’re a little less alone in your pandemic struggles.

Participating in Mental Health Month is a great way to connect with others that are navigating similar mental health challenges to you own. In fact, Mental Health Month was created in large part to provide a platform for individuals with mental health struggles to find support and community.

The other main goals of this month are to spread awareness of mental health issues and educate those who may not fully understand mental health conditions or the realities of living with one.

Check out our blog post that explores the ways you can participate in Mental Health Month this year! You’ll find a variety of resources to help you jump in and make a difference, as well as tools and strategies to help with your personal mental health upkeep.