US Study Finds Alarming Increases in COVID-19-Associated Anxiety & Depression: How Self-Screenings & Self-Care Can Help

New statistics released from Mental Health America (MHA) show that through June this year, more than 165,000 Americans have screened moderate to severe for depression or anxiety since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Whilst these are staggering numbers, they are not a surprise. It validates what people have been feeling and hearing amongst loved ones, colleagues, across society for months now.

Populations most impacted

For thousands of positive MHA screeners, racism and current events are cited as factors in their screening results, the national non-profit reported. It’s important to have data to substantiate the increasing impacts of the health pandemic (alongside racial injustices) on people’s mental health as we face these ongoing challenges in society.

Loneliness and isolation were cited by the greatest percent of moderate to severe depression (74%) and anxiety (65%) screeners as contributing to mental health problems “right now.” These percentages have been steady since mid-April.

The group most affected was found to be adults younger than 25 years. Roughly 90% screened positive for moderate to severe depression, and 80% screened positive for moderate to severe anxiety.

Paul Gionfriddo, CEO of Mental Health America stated, “Kids between the ages of 11 and 17 years have been the most stressed, but it seems to be easier to bear as you get older.”

The importance of online self-screenings

Mental Health America has been conducting online screenings for 6 years. To date, nearly 5.5 million screenings have been completed, making it the largest screening program of its kind in the United States. The screening uses the standard Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9) to assess depression in people and the General Anxiety Disorder-7 (GAD-7) Questionnaire to assess anxiety levels.

Paul Gionfriddo, said about the statistics released, “In fact, the problem is bigger than anyone imagined, making it clear how the pandemic is affecting people now and will continue to affect people who mourn loved ones and whose serious mental conditions are left untreated. So, we need to take this very seriously.”

Mental health screenings allow for early identification and intervention. And early treatment may lessen long-term disability and prevent years of suffering. The National Alliance on Mental Health in the US (NAMI) has found that early identification and treatment leads to better outcomes for people experiencing mental health problems on the whole.

More people are now undergoing mental health screenings. “At roughly 7,000 per day in May and June, the number of anxiety and depression screenings that were completed per day were 406% and 457% higher, respectively, than the number completed in January,” noted Paul Gionfriddo of MHA.

Access to care

In a recent survey conducted by The Commonwealth Fund over the COVID-19 epidemic, it was found that despite heightened mental health symptoms, Americans have been less likely to receive care. Just one in three American adults reported being able to get help from a professional, compared with one in two adults in Australia and Canada when feeling stress, anxiety or sadness.

Alongside the issues with access to care in the US for people wanting to seek help, there is also the factor that Americans may hesitate to seek help because mental health care is not covered in the same way as other forms of health care by insurers.

How self-screenings can help

With the challenges Americans are facing toward seeing a therapist or general practitioner to get a formal diagnosis and receive help, self-screenings can be a helpful tool. There’s the public tool available by Mental Health America and there are other tools, such as the Sheppard Pratt anxiety and depression self-assessment tools.

Join our growing network of employers
Receive Make A Difference News straight to your inbox

Knowing basic indicators of when yourself or someone you care about might be struggling is the first step.

Common symptoms of anxiety include:

  • Feeling restless or on edge all the time
  • Being unable to make decisions
  • Trouble concentrating or controlling racing thoughts
  • Paranoia, or feeling that you are in danger when you are not
  • Experiencing excessive fear or worry about a situation
  • Sleep problems, including problems falling asleep or staying asleep
  • Having panic attacks, including shortness of breath, rapid heart rate, weakness or dizziness, and other physical symptoms
  • Your worries affect your performance at work, school, or in relationships

Common symptoms of depression include:

  • Losing interest in activities that were once fun or exciting
  • Feeling sad, hopeless, or ‘empty’
  • Difficulty with sleep
  • Changes in eating patterns
  • Being easily frustrated or irritable
  • Thoughts of suicide or that life is not worth living – call 911 immediately
  • Lack of energy and feeling tired
  • Physical aches and pains that do not have a distinct cause
  • Difficulty concentrating or remembering things

Taking a free, confidential self-assessment can be a next step to learn whether yourself or your loved one should prioritise seeing a mental health professional to get a formal diagnosis and professional treatment.

Applying self-care when we self-screen

If you have a way of understanding what you or your loved one may be struggling with, whilst waiting for an appointment with a professional, applying self-care practices to help ease symptoms and build resilience can be a helpful interim measure.

Below are five recent self-care articles published by Make a Difference News which can be helpful if you’ve determined through a self-screening or self-assessment that you or your loved one are likely experiencing–or are at high risk of developing–a mental health problem:

The Esteem Compass: Self-Care Tips to Support Minority Mental Health

Wellbeing as One System: Mind, Body and Place

A Step Beyond Mindfulness to Help With Anxiety: The 8 Steps of Focusing

AmcoGiffen’s Nutritional Wellness Programme Pays Dividends for Male Dominated Workforce: 3 Easy Diet Changes Guys Can Make

How a Digital Detox Can Help With Anxiety – 5 Easy Ways to Get Started

It’s always good to have a Plan B

Early identification and intervention, as NAMI emphasises, can have a significant impact on the overall outcomes for a person who is struggling with a mental health problem.  And whilst seeking a professional diagnosis and treatment is the recommended course of care for people who are struggling, in these challenging times we’re facing, being proactive to look after ourselves while the mental healthcare systems are under pressure can be a wise Plan B.

See the full Mental Health America report here.


About the author





Heather Kelly is the founder of Aura Wellbeing, a consultancy providing workplace wellness strategy, coaching and training services to employers. She’s also Content Director for Make a Difference Summit US and Online Editor for Make a Difference News. Heather led the development and operation of the Workplace Wellbeing Index, during her time working for the UK’s largest mental health charity, Mind. In her earlier career she worked as a photographer, a journalist and a senior manager in the insurance industry. She’s passionate about inspiring more empathy and awareness in workplaces toward normalising mental health and in her spare time Heather teaches photography to teens as part of a charity projects in London and Spain, she’s an avid runner and experimental chef for recipes promoting healthy minds.


Sign up to receive Make A Difference's fortnightly round up of features, news, reports, case studies, practical tools and more for employers who want to make a difference to work culture, mental health and wellbeing.