How the COVID-19 Pandemic is Affecting People’s Mental Health and Substance Use

Health Reform

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic crisis, about 4 in 10 adults nationwide have reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder – a four-fold increase from pre-pandemic levels.

Drawing on the latest national survey data, KFF polling and other research, an updated brief explores what’s known about the pandemic’s impact on people’s mental health and substance use and its implications for Americans’ well-being.

Among the key conclusions:

• Young adults have been especially hard hit. Those ages 18-24 are about twice as likely as all adults to report new or increased substance use (25% vs. 13%) or recent suicidal thoughts (26% vs. 11%).

• More women than men are facing mental health challenges. As in the past, during the pandemic, women have been more likely to report symptoms of anxiety and/or depressive disorder (47% vs. 38%).

• People experiencing job or income losses are at higher risk for mental health problems. Adults in households that experienced job losses or reduced incomes report higher rates of mental health symptoms than other households (53% vs. 32%). This is consistent with research around prior economic downturns.

• Essential workers face greater challenges than other workers. Essential workers, who work outside their homes where they could be exposed to COVID-19, are also more likely than non-essential workers to report symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder (42% vs. 30%), increased or new substance use (25% vs. 11%), or recent suicidal thoughts (22% vs. 8%).

• Communities of color are disproportionately affected. Non-Hispanic Black adults (48%) and Hispanic or Latino adults (46%) are more likely to report symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder than White adults (41%).

KFF also has compiled state-specific data on mental health and substance use on more than 20 indicators, with mental health state fact sheets available profiling each state.

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