COVID’s Impact on Mental Health: The Long-Term Consequences

December 29, 2022

An estimated 1.1 million Americans have died from COVID or COVID-related illness since the start of the pandemic. These horrifying numbers have left hundreds of thousands of children without parents, husbands without wives, and families without loved ones.

But the isolation and fear of COVID also led to a worsening of the mental health situation. In addition to increased time alone and “social distancing,” the pandemic led to noticeable anxiety levels as the fear of dying from the virus came to the forefront of the national conversation.

For far too many, the pandemic wasn’t just a temporary interruption to their normal lives nor a physical tragedy that stole loved ones and friends. It amplified deep despair, anxiety, and mental health struggles.

In fact, the mental health consequences arising from the COVID pandemic are only now beginning to be truly grasped.

True Mental Health Cost of COVID

The COVID pandemic was a dark time for everyone, but for some people, it was especially damaging to their mental health.

A recent survey from The Harris Poll done on behalf of NAASP (the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention) as well as the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) and the Suicide Prevention Resource Center (SPRC), found alarming results about the mental health impact of COVID.

Specifically, this poll found that mental health issues got much worse under COVID, and 84% of American adults said that preventing suicide should be a national priority for the entire United States at every level.

An associated poll done by CVS and Harris found that 67% of teens said they experienced worsening depression and suicidal ideation, occurrences, and attempts among themselves and their friends as a result of the pandemic.

How COVID Made Things Worse

Fear and isolation are a poor combination for mental health, especially when combined with less physical exercise-a recipe for mental decline. An increasing number of people have given up on life, lost motivation, or even lost hope in romance, love, and dating .

Many people wanted nothing more than a warm hug but had to stay home alone.

Let’s be clear: The world already had an alarming problem, with 13.2% of adults over 18 using antidepressants between 2015 to 2018. The impact of COVID made it worse.

Proof? Over 20 million antidepressants were prescribed just between October and December of 2020, up over 6% from the same period the year before. This includes 3.3 million prescriptions to help treat psychosis and even graver conditions, up 3.6% from the same period in 2019.

The Suicide Rate Is a National Emergency

The onset of the 2020 pandemic took a hefty toll on people’s lives, with substance abuse, mental illness, and suicide rising to rates never before seen.

As Rhea Faberman notes for Trust for America’s Health , “Deaths associated with alcohol, drugs, and suicide took the lives of 186,763 Americans in 2020, a 20 percent one-year increase in the combined death rate and the highest number of substance misuse deaths ever recorded for a single year.”

This is a national emergency, and it’s no surprise that so many Americans who are paying attention want suicide and the mental health crisis to be an absolute national priority.

COVID didn’t just isolate people; it also showed many that it’s OK not to be OK and that isolation, depression, and mental health struggles do not make you weak, broken, or unworthy of help.

So Much More We Can Do

Doing more to stop suicide and reaching across demographic lines to come together as a society is one potential positive of the pandemic. This crisis showed us that we are all human beings subject to the same stresses, isolation, and traumas as everyone else.

A step in the right direction is the opening of the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline to help those who are considering self-harm or feeling suicidal.

However, as the aforementioned poll shows, only 31% of American adults surveyed feel that our healthcare system gives equal weight to mental health problems as it does to physical health problems.

While this may appear logical on the surface, untreated or overlooked mental illness is as deadly as cancer or a heart attack, even if it sometimes takes longer to kill.

From depression to psychosis to anxiety and anorexia, mental illness and suicidal tendencies take far too many lives every year in the United States. To bring real measures against this, we need to acknowledge what we’re up against and confront it head-on.

Increasing awareness of mental health problems and expanding treatment options, openness, and education will all serve to prevent suicide and improve America’s mental health.

The stigma surrounding mental illness needs to end as soon as possible so people can feel comfortable getting the help they need if and when they need it.


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