When the novel coronavirus roared into the U.S., mental health took a back seat to physical health. The number one priority was ensuring hospitals would not be overwhelmed and that as many lives as possible might be saved.
Schools closed, remote work became the norm, restaurants shuttered and getting along with friends was not possible. The news cycle spun with stories highlighting the ever-increasing number of cases and deaths, whereas unemployment jumped to levels not seen since the Great Depression 1930s.
Experts speculated as much, and polls showed that many individuals seemed to intuitively grasp the mental toll of the pandemic. However, information on mental health metrics was very few; the team did not know the magnitude of any changes in mental well-being issues.
So they made a decision to collect data on mental well being during the pandemic and compare it to information from before all of this happened.
On April 27, the team surveyed 2,032 U.S. adults using an ordinary measure of mental distress that asks, for instance, how usually a respondent felt sad or nervous in the past month. In contrast the responses with a pattern of 19,330 demographically similar individuals in a 2018 government-sponsored survey of U.S. adults that asked the same questions.
The outcomes have been staggering.
The 2020 participants were eight times as more likely to screen positive for severe mental illness – 28%, as opposed to 3.4% in the 2018 survey. The overwhelming majority of the 2020 participants, 70%, met standards for moderate to severe mental sickness, compared with 22% in 2018.