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8 Ways the COVID-19 Pandemic May Be Affecting Your Mental Health

As the COVID-19 pandemic stretches on, we’re learning more about the virus. One of the major areas researchers, experts and health care providers have their eye on is mental health. We’re starting to get some data on what that means — which can be validating if you feel like you’re the only one struggling. Spoiler alert: You’re not.

Sometimes there’s comfort in statistics, research and science. It’s a concrete way to understand you’re not alone if you’re having a hard time right now. Though no study or survey is perfect, we can see just how important it is to talk about mental health. With this in mind, we gathered up some recent mental health numbers that show just what a big impact the COVID-19 pandemic is having and why whatever you’re experiencing right now is valid.

Here are eight ways the COVID-19 pandemic may be impacting your mental health:

1. Increased Anxiety and Depression

The COVID-19 pandemic is the prime environment for anxiety to rear its head. Between disruptions to our daily routines to fear of getting sick, economic loss and uncertainty about what comes next, many people are having a trauma response to COVID-19. It’s, therefore, no surprise that rates of depression and anxiety — or your other mental illness symptoms — have increased significantly.

2. Suicidal Thoughts and Self-Harm

Struggling with difficult feelings like hopelessness, isolation and loneliness can lead to an increased risk for suicidal thoughts or self-harm urges. If this is your experience, you’re not alone.

  • Mental Health America, which fields calls from people looking for mental health support, reported a 42% increase above normal volume from people having thoughts of suicide or self-harm

Experts have penned editorials, research letters and reports expressing that the pandemic can increase suicidal ideation for many people. National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention put together a resource kit that brings together many organizations to provide resources to individuals and communities who are struggling during the pandemic.

It’s also important to note that the pandemic doesn’t automatically mean an increase in the suicide rate. During other major disasters, the sense of increased togetherness and community can protect against increased suicidal thoughts and attempts.

  • The Crisis Text Line reported in an April 14 data briefing a decrease in mentions of suicide by texters, down from 28% normally to 22%.

If you need support right now, you’re not alone and help is available. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

3. Need for More Support 

COVID-19 has turned up the volume of mental health issues for so many people. Therefore, it makes sense mental health organizations, crisis text lines and providers would notice an increase in people reaching out for support. This could be local resources, like therapists accepting clients, or crisis text lines for those moments when you’re really having a hard time.

  • The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) saw a 41% increase to its hotline to connect people with resources since the beginning of the pandemic
  • One of the main helplines during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Disaster Distress Helpline saw a 338% increase in call volume in March, 891% higher than March of the previous year
  • Crisis Text Line told BuzzFeed in mid-April that it saw a 40% increase in texters over the preceding three weeks

4. Less Ability to Cope

Increased levels of anxiety and depression mean your ability to cope with everyday stressors, daily tasks or productivity may take a dive. This can make dealing with an existing mental illness more difficult, like feeling as though you’re backsliding in recovery. It could also show up as not being able to do as much as you used to pre-pandemic.

“Many people who previously coped well, are now less able to cope because of the multiple stressors generated by the pandemic,” wrote The Lancet Commission on Global Mental Health and Sustainable Development, according to the United Nations.

5. Increased Substance Use

Though it’s not the healthiest way to manage your mental health, it’s also not surprising that substance use has increased due to the pandemic. If you or a loved one is affected by addiction and need help, you can call SAMHSA’s hotline at 1-800-662-4357.

  • Approximately 20% of Canadians between the ages of 15 and 49 have been drinking more alcohol during the pandemic
  • A COVID-19 survey found 25% of respondents reported binge drinking at least once in the past week. One out of five said they used prescription drugs for non-prescription reasons and one out of seven used illicit drugs

6. Parenting Is Hard

All memes and good fun aside, the truth underlying those hilarious parenting memes is that parenting right now is hard. With schools closed, parents have taken on a much more intensive role in their child’s day-to-day life, all while being stuck at home more than ever. It’s a lot, and it’s taking its toll.

  • 20% of parents with children were struggling with their mental health, compared to 13% of those without young kids in the house
  • 31% of women with children working full-time felt they had more on their plate than they could handle compared to 13% of men
  • Women are spending 7.4 more hours per week on childcare than men, Latinx and Black women spend 4 to 12 hours more each week than white women and single mothers another 7 hours more than women overall

7. Work Is Hard

There’s no question losing your job because of the COVID-19 pandemic is devastating. So far, 36.5 million Americans have filed for unemployment. The economic uncertainty and very real consequences — like fear of losing your home or not being able to feed your family — impact mental health. But it turns out even if you’re working from home, it can have a negative impact on your mental health.

  • 18% of Americans who were still working as of April 15 were actually more likely to say they were experiencing negative emotional effects compared to 12% of those not working
  • 45% of employees said they were burned out — and 25% said it was due to COVID-19
  • The top reasons for work-related burnout during COVID-19 included: 26.7% due to no home-work life balance, 20.5% because of an unmanageable workload and 18.8% because of job security concerns
  • Only 52% of employees working from home said their employer was more flexible because of the pandemic while only 31% said a manager or human resources staff member checked on their well-being

8. Worried About Mental vs. Physical Health

Some experts have called the mental health impact of COVID-19 a second wave of the pandemic, and the numbers don’t lie. For many people, the mental health consequences of COVID-19 — and everything that comes with it — is a bigger stressor than their physical health.

  • In mid-April, 15% of Gallup survey participants said their mental health was most impacted by COVID-19, compared to 9% who said their financial health was impacted and 6% who said their physical health

Help Is Available

If you’re struggling with your mental health during COVID-19, you’re not alone. Reach out to loved ones or a mental health professional for support, and be gentle with yourself. Check out this list of mental health resources you can lean on right now. And no matter what you’re experiencing, know you’re not alone. This is hard and it’s OK to ask for help.

“I’m learning it is OK to ask for help even during this pandemic. Especially during this pandemic,” wrote Mighty contributor Tori S., adding:

Right now is the time to be there for each other. To show our vulnerabilities, our struggles, the moments when we aren’t so ‘put-together.’ … I am learning that it is OK to not be OK; it is OK to show that I am not OK, and it is more than OK to ask for help when I need it. That is how we will get through this. And we will get through this; we just may need some help doing so.

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Header image via Zhu Liang/Unsplash