The Importance of Mental Health During a Pandemic

doctor checking on patient wearing masks

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) reports that over 17 million Americans, or about 7 percent of the population, suffered “at least one major depressive episode” during 2017. Anxiety, which frequently overlaps with depression, is even more prevalent in the United States. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), roughly 40 million Americans — nearly one-fifth of the U.S. population — will “experience an anxiety disorder in any given year.” 

Unfortunately, these numbers have climbed even higher during 2020, reflecting the devastating toll that the coronavirus pandemic is taking on the nation’s mental health, let alone the mental health of the world as a whole. In fact, according to a report on the current state of mental health in the United States, “Even before COVID-19, the prevalence of mental illness among adults was increasing.” Sadly, children and teenagers have been among those hardest hit, with the CDC reporting that, from April through October of 2020, “the proportion of mental health-related [emergency department] visits for children aged 5 to 11 and 12 to 17 years increased approximately 24 percent and 31 percent” when compared to the previous year. 

The data makes it painfully clear — not only is COVID-19 causing millions of deaths and cases of physical illness, it’s also causing profound harm to the nation’s emotional and mental health. As those affected struggle to cope, many have turned toward therapists and counselors, spurring a surge in demand for online therapy. And while the long-term effects of this mental health crisis will only become apparent with time, one impact is already obvious — Americans are increasingly aware of the importance of mental health. We hope that during these difficult times, this guide to managing pandemic stress will help to provide you with insight about COVID-related depression and anxiety, so that you can take steps to protect and maintain good mental health. 

How Does a Pandemic Like Coronavirus Negatively Affect Mental Health? 

Reported cases of anxiety about the pandemic are skyrocketing, particularly among the nation’s young adults. Likewise, the coronavirus crisis has “tripled the rate of depression in U.S. adults in all demographic groups.” According to JAMA research, that spike is “higher than…[any] recorded after previous mass traumatic events,” including the World Trade Center attacks of September 11, 2001. 

In addition to anxiety and depression, COVID-19 has also fueled surges in the prevalence rate of eating disorders, substance abuse disorders, and potentially, even suicides, though researchers have acknowledged the need for more data on the latter. Scientists believe that these trends could have serious long-term ramifications for the nation’s mental wellbeing — especially when layered with the grief, trauma, and financial instability wrought by the pandemic.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Coronavirus Anxiety? 

Examples of anxiety disorders include panic disorder, which is characterized by panic attacks; agoraphobia, which is the fear of being vulnerable or endangered in a public space; and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), which may cause the following signs or symptoms: 

  • Excessive sweating 
  • Hypervigilance 
  • Insomnia 
  • Irritability 
  • Panic attacks (anxiety attacks) 
  • Racing thoughts
  • Restlessness  
  • Severe, intense stress
  • Trembling  

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Coronavirus Depression?

Coronavirus-related depression has become so prevalent that it’s sometimes described as “quarantine depression.” However, like anxiety, depression is actually a family of distinct disorders. They include major depressive disorder, or clinical depression; bipolar disorder, which involves fluctuating between depressive and manic states; and seasonal depression (SAD), which spikes during fall and winter. Some common symptoms of depression include: 

  • Crying fits 
  • Difficulty concentrating 
  • Feelings of sadness, hopelessness, or worthlessness 
  • Irritability 
  • Loss of interest in relationships, goals, or hobbies 
  • Sleep disturbances, such as heavy sleeping or insomnia
  • Weight fluctuations  

How to Cope with a Pandemic: 13 Tips for Improving and Protecting Your Mental Health During COVID-19 

There are numerous tips, which we’ll share in a moment, for practicing better pandemic self-care. However, the most important is to consult with a doctor or counselor. If you feel like you might be in imminent danger, or are thinking about self-harm, you should immediately call 9-1-1, contact the 24-hour National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by dialing (800) 273-TALK ((800) 273-8255), or visit your nearest emergency room. 

If you aren’t experiencing a crisis, but still feel like your mental health could use a lift, the following tips and strategies may help to boost your mood as you cope with the pandemic: 

  • Be mindful of how much time you spend following COVID-19 news, since constant monitoring can increase your anxiety
  • Complete an anxiety screener or depression questionnaire to determine whether you might be experiencing either condition 
  • Contact a doctor, counselor, or therapist if you feel like you could benefit from professional mental health support 
  • Explore a new hobby or goal, such as learning a skill, language, or recipe, in order to keep your mind engaged  
  • For help with COVID-related alcohol or drug abuse, speak to a counselor confidentially by calling the 24-hour Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at (800) 662-HELP ((800) 662-4357)
  • Keep a typed or handwritten journal, which will help you to vent and explore your emotions — and the triggers behind them  
  • Maintain good physical hygiene, even if you aren’t in regular contact with other people 
  • Make an effort to maintain a healthy diet, while occasionally treating yourself to comfort foods 
  • Practice relaxation techniques, such as breathing exercises or meditation 
  • Prioritize healthy sleeping habits, or “sleep hygiene,” such as creating consistent bedtime routines and limiting your evening screentime 
  • Reach out to trusted friends and family members when you are feeling down, or simply for a chat 
  • Take advantage of videoconferencing apps or software, such as Zoom, FaceTime, and Google Meet, to have virtual hang-outs with friends and loved ones 
  • Try to stay physically active while observing social distancing, such as practicing push-ups, weightlifting, or yoga at home – maybe even try streaming fitness classes if you’re up for the added challenge

How Has COVID-19 Affected the Demand for Counselors and Therapists? 

With record numbers of Americans facing mental health crises, the demand for teletherapy is soaring — even as related professions or industries struggle with slow-downs. As the American Psychological Association (APA) pointed out in October, “Though the health-care industry is suffering, demand for psychological services has been on the rise,” a trend the APA attributes to the need to “juggle isolation, telework, child care and financial hardship.” 

Analysts expect these trends to continue into the future — even in a post-COVID landscape. As Research and Markets, which describes itself as the “world’s largest and most respected market research resource,” stated in July, “Although many patients will return to face to face sessions when it is safe to do so, online therapy can be a less intimidating option” — not to mention more convenient (and, in certain cases, more cost-efficient). 

Due to its convenience and relative affordability, telemedicine may also help to make psychological services more accessible for underserved populations, such as low-income patients or patients who live in rural areas. In fact, a study published earlier this year described telemedicine as being “essential to care for underserved populations,” calling any “inability” to provide remote care “a disservice to…rural, structurally disadvantaged, impoverished, and stigmatized communities.” 

Become a Licensed Therapist or Online Counselor with a Psychology Degree from NU

Millions of Americans are struggling right now, along with pandemic victims across the globe. Make a positive difference in your community, your country, and your world by providing mental healthcare to those in need. Start the journey by earning your degree in psychology at National University. 

Through our rigorous, fast-paced psychology programs, such as the Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, the Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology, or the Undergraduate Certificate in Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counseling, students prepare for a rewarding career in their field of choice. To learn more about our degree and certificate programs, contact the NU admissions office, or apply today.


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