Businesses shut down. Schools closed. People lost jobs, loved ones, and so much more. The way of life as many people knew it was turned upside down by COVID-19. Is it any wonder, then, that the mental health of Americans was significantly impacted by the pandemic? And, while emerging data during the early and mid-stages of the pandemic revealed that depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation (thoughts) were on the rise, so were questions about the long-term impacts of mental health.
At the one-year mark of COVID-19, National Institute of Mental Health Director, Dr. Joshua A. Gordon, published One Year In: COVID-19 and Mental Health. In his overview of the impacts of the pandemic on mental health, he stated:
“Looking back to last March, we knew this would be difficult. But we didn’t know how difficult. And we certainly didn’t know that the challenge of COVID-19 would last this long.”
Now, well over the one-year mark, with infection rates finally waning, uncertainties remain. What is known, however, is that the mental health impacts of COVID-19 are far-reaching and will be lasting—especially for certain people and demographics.
Disasters and epidemics from the past have demonstrated that mental illness symptoms typically worsen in the immediate wake of a traumatic experience. And, Gordon cautions that a sizeable portion of people will develop severe enough symptoms to meet the criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or major depressive disorder.
While the nation continues to heal physically, mentally, and emotionally, it’s important to be mindful that recovery takes time.
If you or someone you love has been impacted by the pandemic, you are not alone. As you continue reading, you will see how COVID-19 has affected the mental health of many people across the nation and globe.
At Futures Recovery Healthcare we understand the challenges that come with anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders and how symptoms can be exacerbated by a worldwide pandemic. We have programs specifically designed to address the unique mental health impacts brought on by COVID-19 and other traumas. If you or a family member is suffering from a mental health disorder, we can help you develop the tools and strategies needed to cope and heal as we face the pandemic’s aftermath together.
Pandemic Mental Health Early Warnings and Lessons
Surveys, polls, and reports didn’t take long to reveal the relationship between COVID-19 and rising mental illness. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) published data in June and July of 2020 to illuminate how the pandemic was affecting the mental health of Americans. Their findings concluded that:
- 36% of people in the U.S. expressed difficulty sleeping.
- 32% said they were having trouble eating.
- 31% reported having symptoms of anxiety and depression.
- 26% communicated having stress-related symptoms.
- 12% confessed to increasing their substance use.
- 11% revealed they had serious thoughts of suicide.
As studies and research continued to affirm the gravity of mental health challenges faced around the world, organizations like the CDC, World Health Organization (WHO), and others helped spread growing awareness of signs of mental illness. And, many of the strategies for encouraging positive mental health recommended early on during the pandemic, are still applicable as we emerge from its wake, such as:
- Establishing a routine. Not all businesses are back to full operating hours. Some schools have not yet resumed in-person classes (or are still deciphering a plan). Many people continue to work remotely or are on hybrid (work from home and in the office) schedules. It’s not uncommon for people to still feel lost, uncertain, and unorganized.
Trying to implement a routine—and one that allows flexibility—is helpful in providing a sense of grounding and normalcy as life acclimates to whatever the “new normal” will be.
- Remaining informed (but not too much!) While the more sensationalized news and programming aspects of the pandemic have subsided, conflicting opinions about vaccines, masks, and other hot-topic issues can be anxiety- and stress-producing. It’s healthy and wise to remain informed as the pandemic continues on a downward trend, but should you feel that certain information or communication pathways are aggravating symptoms of anxiety or depression, it’s important to listen to your mind and body.
- Exercising regularly. Exercise has a number of mental health benefits including improving sleep, boosting your overall mood, lowering stress, and more.
- Remaining socially connected. The pandemic significantly restricted social interaction for many populations. Studies have shown that social connections can positively impact mental health, providing a sense of wellbeing and decreasing depression.
Although many areas of the nation now have more opportunities to connect with others in person, some people may still be unable or cautious, when it comes to face-to-face interactions. It’s still important to engage with others for support and connection—even if on the phone, tablet, or computer.
Anxiety and Mental Health After the Pandemic
It’s important to remember that the pandemic isn’t “officially over” and may not be for some time. And, because of this, paired with the fact that studies on the subject of COVID-19’s long-term impact are only in their infancy, we can’t fully know all the repercussions yet to come.
But, there are a few areas of mental health as it relates to the pandemic being emphasized through emerging data. One, of which, is that in America, mental health effects from COVID-19 are strongly impacting vulnerable populations affected by housing problems, loss of employment, and scarcity of food.
Studies have also shown, that Non-Hispanic Black adults are 48% more likely to have symptoms of anxiety and/or depressive disorder than Non-Hispanic White adults. And, 46% of Hispanic or Latino adults are more likely to have symptoms of anxiety and/or depressive disorder than Non-Hispanic White adults.
As we have lightly touched upon, persons with pre-existing mental illness—particularly those with more serious forms, such as schizophrenia—have been profoundly impacted. In addition to compounding their existing symptoms, individuals with schizophrenia were nearly 10 times more prone to contract COVID-19 and close to three times more likely to perish from the disease (compared to persons without mental illness).
Another group that research has shown to be susceptible to lasting mental health impacts in the pandemic’s aftermath: first responders. According to KFF, frontline health care workers reported feelings of anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation. And, 64% of polled households with a health care worker expressed having at least one negative mental health impact (such as worsening existing mental illness symptoms, problems sleeping, trouble eating, and increased substance/alcohol use).
Young people too—between ages 18-24—have been, and are continuing, to report anxiety and depression symptoms. Additionally, this age group is 25% more likely to report substance use than their adult counterparts.
Takeaways, Treatment, and What to Expect From Here
Even as cases of COVID-19 diminish, it’s important to understand that what data presently demonstrates is that the mental impacts of COVID-19 could–and likely will—outpace the pandemic. In fact, in May 2020 a study estimated that additional deaths due to suicide and overdose may continue up to 2029 as a result of “deaths of despair.” This term refers to death occurring because of the pandemic’s financial crisis aftermath combined with the effects of prolonged isolation.
As we mentioned earlier, many of the strategies implemented in the wake of the pandemic continue to be useful now— routine, exercise, and social connection—and will be in its (eventual) aftermath.
Additional ways to prevent and treat mental health in the pandemic’s wake include:
- Seeking community-based support (certain local communities may have individuals trained to provide emergency COVID-19 support.)
- Expanding mental health and substance abuse telehealth options, especially for underserved populations.
- Developing and participating in self-help groups (for mental health, 12-Step recovery, religious groups.)
- Finding a therapist, counselor, or psychology expert specializing in pandemic-related stress and mental health disorders.
- Entering an inpatient program to help address, diagnose, and treat symptoms of mental illness.
And, one area in which mental health experts and psychologists largely agree is crucial moving forward: The importance of self-care. From getting good sleep and eating nutritiously to minimizing screen time and an influx of information, trying to find a balance that works for you is increasingly important as the world still works to find equilibrium.
If symptoms of anxiety, depression, and other forms of mental illness are inhibiting you or someone you love from living a full and satisfying life, help is available.
At Futures Recovery Healthcare we have a program specifically dedicated to addressing mental health disorders and symptoms. Our program is a safe and non-judgmental resource for males and females 18 and over struggling with a variety of mental health conditions. We offer individual therapy by licensed clinicians, family therapy, case management support, group therapy, and recreational activities in an effort to help people identify stressors, work on family issues, create lasting recovery plans, promote healthy social skills, improve overall well-being, and self-care, and more.
We treat disorders such as depressive disorders, anxiety disorders, personality disorders, bipolar and related disorders by using clinical, medical, and psychiatric interventions, and support. Our interdisciplinary team approach allows patients to receive holistic services and care. Our goal is to help develop and establish a journey of healing and a life worth living.
Contact us confidentially online or by phone at 866-804-2098