COVID-19 impact on mental health - statistics & facts

The coronavirus disease (COVID-19), first identified in December 2019, has resulted in a global pandemic which continues to impact people in many ways. The number of cases has continued to rise, with cases and deaths continuing to rise in many countries, while the impact of social distancing and quarantine measures has had a measurable impact on the economy. The combination of the direct effects of the disease on individuals and their families, and the indirect effect on financial security, housing, unemployment and social isolation has led to an increase in emotional and psychological challenges worldwide, with specific populations being disproportionately affected. Worry, stress, anxiety and other emotional responses are to be expected during such times of instability, and for those already suffering mental illness, the extra pressure serves to exacerbate their condition. An additional challenge for those experiencing mental distress during the pandemic is that social distancing regulations make it more difficult to access appropriate mental healthcare services.

Anxiety and depression

Anxiety and depression are among the most common types of mental disorders, with 15.2 percent of those aged 18-25 years in the U.S. reporting a major depressive episode in the past year. Symptoms of anxiety can include feelings of panic or fear, an increase in heart rate, and muscular tension, while depression is characterized by feelings of low mood, a lack of motivation and enjoyment, and a decrease in energy levels. The symptoms of both disorders can be mild, or they can have a significant impact on a person's well-being by affecting sleep, concentration, appetite, social interaction and/or the ability to carry out daily activities. In the U.S., the COVID-19 pandemic has tripled the share of people who reported symptoms of anxiety or depression.

Substance use and suicidal ideation

Substance use and suicidal ideation are both closely linked to mental health and the presence of emotional stressors, so it is no surprise that there has been an increase in both over the course of 2020. The pandemic also makes it more difficult for those already with substance use disorders or in recovery to access the support they require, due to social distancing regulations. As of June, up to 15 percent (depending on region) of adults in the U.S. reported starting or increasing substance use to cope with pandemic-related stressor emotions.

Minimizing the long-term damage

The COVID-19 pandemic brings with it more than just a risk to physical health, as around the globe individuals are challenged with social isolation, absence of school structures, unemployment, financial instability, and increased risk of abuse (e.g. in the case of domestic violence). The severe and long-lasting effects of the pandemic on mental health should not be overlooked, and action is needed to prevent more damage than necessary. This may come in the form of identifying at-risk groups and improving the provision of social and financial support, treatment options, and harm reduction resources, the implementation of which will differ from country to country.

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COVID-19 and mental health

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