6 Effects of COVID-19 on Mental Health

Doctor William C Lloyd Healthgrades Medical Reviewer
Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Karon Warren on December 15, 2020
  • A woman driving her vehicle wearing latex gloves and a mask during the COVID-19 pandemic
    Mental health effects of COVID-19 include anxiety, insomnia and dementia.
    The mental health toll of COVID-19 is far reaching, affecting people who have survived the illness, cared for the sick, lost a loved one, suffered a job loss, or all of the above. In fact, according to a new study, 1 in 5 COVID-19 patients received a psychiatric diagnosis within 90 days of their COVID diagnosis. These included anxiety disorders, insomnia and dementia. Learn more about COVID’s mental health effects, how to help yourself or a loved one, and what you can do to protect your mental health during times of ongoing stress and uncertainty.
  • Woman with Anxiety
    According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders already are the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting 40 million adults age 18 and older. During the COVID-19 pandemic, fears and worries over such issues as health, job loss, and finances have reached new levels. A November 2020 study published by The Lancet Psychiatry found that the most frequent psychiatric diagnosis following a COVID-19 diagnosis was anxiety disorder, including adjustment disorder and generalized anxiety disorder.
  • two exhausted health care workers sitting outside the hospital while taking a break
    Post-traumatic stress disorder
    Although not as prevalent as other anxiety disorders, PTSD also is on the rise. For the COVID survivor, this could be the result of social isolation, physical discomfort, and fear for survival. Of course, PTSD also could be affecting frontline medical workers who not only face possible exposure to the virus every day, but also witness increased illnesses, deaths, and supply shortages. These factors increase the risk of developing PTSD.
  • unidentifiable man in comfortable clothes resting on couch
    Before COVID, depression was one of the most common mental disorders in the United States, with an estimated 17.3 million adults experiencing at least one major depressive episode (in 2017 alone, according to the National Institute of Mental Health). Following a new study published by the JAMA Network Open in September 2020, the prevalence of depression was more than three-fold higher during the COVID-19 pandemic than before it started. People at greatest risk for depression were lower income individuals, those with less than $5,000 in savings, and those having exposure to more stressors, such as isolation and job loss.
  • Overhead view of young Caucasian male sitting awake at side of bed with insomnia
    Stress takes a toll on sleep as we toss and turn with worry and fear over a job or family situation, health, or other issues. Difficulty sleeping for a COVID survivor is especially on the rise, with the rates of insomnia diagnoses increasing. This is due in part to predictions that circadian disturbances of the sleep-wake cycle follow a COVID-19 infection, the study in The Lancet Psychiatry states. Circadian dysthymia (or disturbance) remains a risk for frontline medical staff too, according to a different study.
  • Older women looking into distance with concerned family members in background
    A surprising, and unexplained finding of the study published in The Lancet Psychiatry was an increase in dementia in COVID survivors. The numbers are startling: There is a two to three times higher rate of dementia following a COVID-19 infection compared to other respiratory tract infections like influenza. The reason for this increased incidence is not yet clear, but causes concern, particularly given many COVID-19 survivors are older adults already at risk of developing dementia. Additional and longer-term studies are necessary to research these findings, especially given what is known about the coronavirus continues to change and evolve with time.
  • African american (black) male teenager in a counseling session
    In some countries, there appears to be an increase in suicides; in some a decrease or no change. Although documenting a true cause and effect of the pandemic on suicide may be difficult, the Pan American Health Organization warned in September 2020 that the pandemic may exacerbate suicide risk factors, such as an increase in distress, anxiety and depression. Additional factors such as violence, alcohol and substance abuse, and feelings of loss also may increase a person’s decision to choose suicide. To reduce suicide risk, the PAHO recommends openly talking about thoughts of suicide, learning to identify suicide warning signs in an effort to prevent it, and finding ways to stay connected to others.
  • young adult black male and young adult white male with a prosthetic leg smiling and sitting on a rock in the mountains, enjoying the vista
    Follow healthy steps to cope with stress.
    To reduce stress that could lead to more serious COVID mental health effects, take extra care of your physical, emotional and mental health. Eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and getting a good night’s sleep can promote good physical health and lower stress. Take time to unwind by shutting off the news and social media, and tuning in to your favorite TV shows, reading a book, or playing with your pets. Maintain connections with others through phone and video calls, participating in online classes, or attending virtual faith-based services.
  • Caucasian man in baseball cap hugging unseen man at group therapy session
    Reach out if you or a loved one is in crisis.
    The stress and fear of dealing with COVID mental health effects can become overwhelming. It’s important to reach out for help if your emotions become too much for you or a loved one. Call a friend or family member to discuss your thoughts and emotions, or contact one of the many mental health organizations offering assistance. These include the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration national helpline (1-800-662-HELP), the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK) and 911.
6 Effects of COVID-19 on Mental Health | COVID Mental Health Effects
  1. Facts and Statistics. Anxiety and Depression Association of America. https://www.paho.org/en/news/10-9-2020-covid-19-pandemic-exacerbates-suicide-risk-factors
  2. Taquet M, Luciano S, Geddes JR, Harrison PJ. Bidirectional Associations Between COVID-19 and Psychiatric Disorder: Retrospective Cohort Studies of 62,354 COVID-19 Cases in the USA. The Lancet Psychiatry. Published online November 9, 2020. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/S2215-0366(20)30462-4. https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanpsy/article/PIIS2215-0366(20)30462-4/fulltext
  3. Major Depression. National Institute of Mental Health. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/major-depression.shtml
  4. Ettman CK, Abdalla SM, Cohen GH, Sampson L, Vivier PM, Galea S. Prevalence of Depression Symptoms in US Adults Before and During the COVID-19 Pandemic. JAMA Netw Open. 2020;3(9):e2019686. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.19686. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2770146
  5. Bryson WJ. J Clin Sleep Med. 2020;16(8):1423. https://jcsm.aasm.org/doi/10.5664/jcsm.8540#d49045e1
  6. COVID-19 Pandemic Exacerbates Suicide Risk Factors. Pan American Health Organization. https://www.paho.org/en/news/10-9-2020-covid-19-pandemic-exacerbates-suicide-risk-factors
  7. Coping With Stress. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/managing-stress-anxiety.html
  8. John A, Pirkis J, Gunnell D, Appleby L, Morrissey J. Trends in suicide during the covid-19 pandemic. BMJ. 2020 Nov 12;371:m4352. doi: 10.1136/bmj.m4352. PMID: 33184048. https://www.bmj.com/content/371/bmj.m4352

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Last Review Date: 2020 Dec 14
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