Over the past 15 months, we have faced the threat of a new virus, the unpredictability of not knowing what lied ahead, and the lack of control we had over any of it. Together, these factors have created the perfect storm for short and long-term mental health problems.  

If you experienced depression or anxiety in the last year, you are not alone. A survey of over 6,000 people before and during the pandemic found that symptoms of mild, moderate, and severe depression increased by more than 3-fold during COVID-19. 

During a recent media briefing, psychology experts discussed the effects of a year’s worth of unprecedented stress on mental health, and what this could mean for overall well-being. We give you the highlights below. 

The pandemic hit low-income families particularly hard

“The burden of COVID is really felt more in lower-income groups,” says Dr. Karestan Koenen, a professor of psychiatric epidemiology at Harvard University. In England, people with the most severe anxiety symptoms were making less than 16,000 £ (around $23,000 USD) per year. “We would expect the burden of COVID in terms of mental health to be felt more among people who have other stressors as well,” says Koenen. These might include social and political unrest, bereavement, social isolation, and social stigma associated with being infected with the virus.  

Vector illustration in flat style. Sitting mother and child with laptop. Online education with class in quarantine time, making homework with parent's help. Home schooling. Blue and violet colors.
Parents and children faced unprecedented stress during the pandemic.

Children’s mental health suffered due to drastic changes in routine

The pandemic impacted the daily routines of children, starting with school and child care closures and reduced social interaction with other kids. In North America, “there’s been quite a substantial increase across all age groups but especially in tweens and teens in terms of their mental health [struggles] during COVID,” says Dr. Sheri Madigan, associate professor of psychology at the University of Calgary in Canada. Children with preexisting anxiety and depression, children who felt disconnected from their families, and those who had increased screen time and reduced sleep were more likely to report anxiety and depression during the pandemic, says Madigan.

Parents also felt the burden 

The pandemic removed the social support many parents depended on for child care. Parents were worried about their own parents getting sick and became stressed with homeschooling their kids. A study that focused on 1,300 Canadian moms found that a higher proportion of them reported symptoms of anxiety and depression during the early months of the pandemic compared to 3 other pre-pandemic time points. Moms who were having a harder time balancing the demands of home-schooling and working from home, or moms who lost their job were more likely to report mental health issues.

Anxiety and depression also increased during pregnancy. In a global survey of close to 7,000 pregnancies in 64 countries, 31% reported clinical levels of anxiety and depression and over 40% reported clinical levels of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Vector Illustration of a Sad Girl in Solitude from Social Distancing in COVID-19 coronavirus crisis, anxiety from virus infection, virus pathogens.
Depression and anxiety symptoms increased among mothers during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mental health struggles affect overall health

“Mental health is the foundation of all health,” says Koenen. Women with higher PTSD symptoms are at increased risk for type-2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, stroke, cognitive decline, and early mortality

The link between trauma and obesity is also well known.

Where can I get help?

The pandemic was a new stressor for all of us, and it is normal to feel anxious and worried. If these feelings are interfering with your daily life and wellbeing, you can reach out to the many free, confidential helplines that are available:

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration has a helpline for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders. Call 1-800-662-4357 to get connected to local assistance and support. 

Every state in the U.S has a suicide hotline you can reach out to, and if you prefer to talk online, there are also suicide prevention chats, such as IMAlive and the Crisis Text Line