The COVID-19 virus affects an individual’s respiratory system, often creating serious physical health issues. The pandemic that has arisen from the virus outbreak has also caused some serious mental health problems for people across the US. Many experts believe COVID relief efforts need to include mental health care to help people cope with the isolation, the financial strain, and the uncertainty of the pandemic.

New Barriers

Not only has COVID-19 created new mental health issues, but it has also created new barriers for people already suffering from mental illness and substance use disorders in getting treatment. Travel restrictions, financial difficulties, and other barriers have kept many people from getting the help they need. The Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) reports that during the pandemic, about 4 in 10 adults in the US reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder. That number has increased from about 1 in 10 who reported similar symptoms during the first half of 2019.

Negative Impacts on Mental Health

KFF conducted a poll in July 2020 in which many adults reported that COVID had specific negative impacts on their mental health and well-being. Those impacts included:

  • Difficulty sleeping (36%) or eating (32%)
  • Increases in alcohol consumption or substance use (12%)
  • Worsening chronic conditions (12%), due to worry and stress over the coronavirus.

Necessary public health measures have exposed people to situations that are linked to poor mental health outcomes, such as isolation and job loss, with very little in the way of relief or assistance in getting the help they need. In June 2020, 13% of adults reported new or increased substance use due to coronavirus-related stress, and 11% of adults reported thoughts of suicide in the past 30 days. 

At Risk Individuals

Many people are at risk for experiencing negative mental health or substance abuse consequences during the pandemic, including young adults, people experiencing job loss, parents and children, communities of color, and essential workers. While these individuals may have received stimulus payments to help them financially, those payments covered little in the way of their long-term expenses.

In addition to these strategies for helping people through the pandemic, COVID relief efforts need to include assistance with getting help for their mental health or substance abuse issues. The numbers show the growing and often devastating effect of the pandemic on the mental health of these at risk individuals.

Young adults have had to deal with a loss of income as well as the closures of colleges and universities. KFF reports that  a larger than average share of young adults (ages 18-24) are reporting symptoms of anxiety and/or depressive disorder (56%). Compared to all adults, young adults are more likely to report substance use (25% vs. 13%) and suicidal thoughts (26% vs. 11%).

Adults who have lost their job as a direct result of the pandemic are experiencing increased rates of depression, distress, anxiety, and low self-esteem. These issues may lead to higher rates of substance abuse and suicide. Adults who have experienced job loss or reduced incomes themselves or in their household report higher rates of mental illness symptoms than those without income or job loss (53% versus 32%).

Parents, particularly mothers, who have had to give up jobs or work from home while supervising remote learners are more likely to report symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder. Poor mental health can affect women and their children in these stressful situations.

Essential Workers and Mental Health

KFF has found that many essential workers continue to face challenges as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Front line workers are at greater risk of contracting the virus and are stressed from overwork. Essential workers in all fields have been found to be more likely to report symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder (42% vs. 30%), starting or increasing substance use (25% vs. 11%), and suicidal thoughts (22% vs. 8%) during the pandemic.

Some Wins for Mental Health Relief Efforts

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is one of the many mental health experts that believe COVID relief efforts need to include mental health care. NAMI fought for a number of provisions that were included in the COVID relief provisions approved in December 2020. The package allotted $4.2 billion for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), which included $1.65 billion for the community mental health block grant, $600 million for Certified Community Behavioral Health Centers, and $50 million for Project AWARE (school-based mental health). As the pandemic continues, more help needs to be included in future relief efforts.


At BRC Recovery, we understand the stresses you are experiencing during the COVID-19 pandemic. When you need help with mental health or substance use issues, we are here for you. Contact the professionals at BRC Recovery when you are ready for real change for your life. We offer proven treatment options that will empower you to reclaim your life.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we offer a safe, clean environment so you can continue receiving the highest quality of care. To learn more about our services and to get the help you need, please call BRC Recovery at 1-866-291-2676 to speak to our team.