While much of the conversation surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic has centered around how to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe from contracting the disease, negative impacts to mental health as a result of the disease are also becoming an important topic of conversation.
Between the social isolation resulting from stay-at-home orders, to the concerns about contracting the virus and getting seriously ill, to losing your job as a result of the current recession, depression and anxiety rates have been on the rise as a result of COVID-19.
Prescription Medications During COVID-19
It’s no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic has tremendously impacted the mental health of many people. While it might seem that only those with pre-existing health conditions, those experiencing social isolation, or those who have experienced changes in income as a result of the pandemic would be suffering from these negative effects, the reality is that the majority of people are reporting negative mental health effects as a result of the pandemic.
Approximately seven out of ten employees in a recent survey indicated that the COVID-19 pandemic has been the most stressful period of their entire professional career. It should come as no surprise that this tremendous increase in stress has correlated to reduced productivity and an increase in the use of antidepressant, anti-anxiety, and insomnia prescription medications. An estimated 62 percent of employees reporting that they were under stress indicated that they were losing at least an hour a day of productive time at work due to stress, while 32 percent reported losing two or more hours per day due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
At the same time, prescriptions for antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, and insomnia medications increased by 21 percent between February 16 and March 15, 2020. In a disturbing correlation with COVID-19, 78 percent of the prescriptions filled during the week of March 15, at the height of the early stages of the pandemic, were for new prescriptions. Some people were found to be at higher risk of negative mental health impacts due to the pandemic than others.
It’s safe to say that 2020 hasn’t been an easy year for anyone, but how much the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted your mental health varies from person to person. Different people handle stress in different ways, and your response to stress often depends on your personal financial situation, where you live, level of support from family or friends, your background, and previous issues with mental health.
While everyone is completely justified in struggling with their mental health during COVID-19, the following individuals are considered at higher risk of experiencing mental health problems:
- Children and teenagers
- Healthcare workers and first responders
- People with existing mental health conditions
- People who have had changes to their employment, such as losing their job or working reduced hours
- People who are socially isolated, including those who live alone or in rural areas
- People who struggle to find information in their native language
- People living in group homes or other group settings
- People with pre-existing medical conditions that place them at higher risk for severe illness due to COVID-19
- Caretakers responsible for taking care of loved ones
- Essential workers
- People with substance abuse issues
- People with a developmental delay or disability
- Certain ethnic groups
- Homeless people
Social Isolation and Mental Health
One of the biggest sources of impacts to mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic has been the social isolation that resulted from the closure of non-essential businesses, shutting down of schools, and mandatory shelter-in-place orders implemented by many states in the early response to the pandemic. Large gatherings were prohibited, many travelers were forced to quarantine, and many restaurants and bars closed down.
The Kaiser Family Foundation conducted a poll in late March after many states had issued stay-at-home orders, and found that 47 percent of people who were forced to stay at home reported negative mental health effects related to COVID-19, as compared to 37 percent of people who were not required to shelter in place. Approximately 21 percent of people sheltering in place reported a major negative impact on their mental health due to the virus, as opposed to 13 percent of people who were not sheltering in place.
The noticeable difference in mental health impacts for those who were socially isolated versus those who were not underscores the reality that for many people, social isolation contributes to feelings of depression and anxiety.
Job Loss and Mental Health
Job loss and income insecurity has also played a major role in increasing rates of depression and anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The United States entered an economic recession in February 2020, with the peak unemployment rate of 14.7 percent reached in April. Job loss has been correlated with increased rates of depression, distress, anxiety, and low self-esteem, and it can contribute to the development of substance abuse in many people.
When compared to people who had not lost income or employment during the pandemic, people who have experienced changes in their income or employment reported negative mental health impacts from worry or stress due to COVID-19 at a rate of 46 percent, while those who had not experienced negative mental health impacts at a rate of 32 percent in a poll conducted in mid-May. But by mid-July, 58 percent of people who had experienced changes in their employment or income reported negative mental health impacts, compared to 50 percent of those who had not experienced employment changes.
Those who had experienced income changes were found to have been more likely to experience at least one adverse effect on their health, such as increases in drug or alcohol use, difficulty eating or sleeping, worsening of chronic health conditions, and more. Mental health impacts related to job loss or changes in income do vary depending on income level. The Kaiser Family Foundation found that 35 percent of people making less than 40,000 dollars per year reported major negative mental health impacts, compared to 22 percent of people with incomes between 40,000 and 89,999 dollars and 20 percent of people making 90,000 dollars or more.
Healthy Ways to Cope
With so many of our normal coping mechanisms removed or altered, it can be challenging to find healthy ways to cope with the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic. For many people, things like working out at the gym or going out friends is a great way to blow off stream and reduce stress, but those options are no longer available for many people.
If you’re struggling with finding healthy ways to cope with the stress of COVID-19, try these suggestions:
- Educate yourself and create a plan for what to do if you are sick or concerned about COVID-19. If you find it helpful, speak to a doctor or healthcare professional to get information about how best to handle a possible infection. Before starting any treatment for what you think might be COVID-19, talk to a healthcare professional.
- Find out where to access treatment for mental health issues if you feel yourself struggling. Make a list of support services and resources that are easy to access if you need therapy, a support group, or counseling services, including virtual options like YANA, which is an affordable, quick, easily accessible online mental health clinic.
- Take care of your emotional health so that you are better equipped to react to emergency situations and protect your family and yourself from the virus if needed.
- Put your phone down, close your laptop, and turn off the news. Try to take breaks from obsessively monitoring the latest news on the pandemic, and limit yourself to catching up on the latest information just once a day. Constantly hearing bad news is stressful and can be depressing for many people, especially those who are struggling with their mental health already.
- Take care of yourself physically. Living as healthy of a lifestyle as possible during the pandemic will not only help you to recover more quickly if you do get sick, it will also help improve your mental health and ease symptoms of depression and anxiety. Make sure you’re eating healthy well-balanced meals with plenty of fruits and vegetables, getting enough sleep, taking breaks to stretch, taking deep breaths or meditating, exercising regularly, and avoiding excessive use of drugs or alcohol to cope with your feelings.
- Although it can be challenging to come up with activities you enjoy that aren’t limited by the current pandemic, try to make time each day to unwind and do an activity that helps you relax, like reading a book or going for a bike ride around your neighborhood.
- Don’t be shy about reaching out to others to discuss how you’re feeling and how your mental health is doing. There’s a good chance that there are other people in your life who are also struggling.
- If you’re missing your church, synagogue, or other faith-based home, reconnect with your community through online services if offered, or via social media. The same goes for other community groups that you may be a part of. Many organizations are taking their activities online, so try and connect.
One of the best things you can do is simply to be hopeful. We know it’s a tough time right now, but just remember that things can only get better from here, and that no matter what, You Are Not Alone.