Mental Health Index

U.S. Worker Edition – June 2020 Update

American Workers Are Learning to Function Under Sustained Pandemic Stress

Elevated Mental and Emotional Pressure Now a Constant

Mental health in the United States has suffered since the COVID-19 outbreak began. Now, months into the pandemic, Americans are showing that they are settling into a state of heightened stress and tension. The initial shock of COVID-19 is wearing off and daily news reports of illness, unemployment, and economic turmoil are routine. Despite the desire to return to life as it was before COVID, there’s a sense that continued disruptions are likely. Along with this acceptance of a new normal, stress, anxiety, and depression levels that were increasing for several months are showing signs of leveling off or declining in some cases. However, Americans are still struggling with mental health issues more now than before the pandemic.

Best Case

Workers are taking health risks; jobs are being redefined to accommodate a new undefined world.

Worst Case

Workers are being furloughed or simply let go. Small businesses are shutting down.

Every Case

In all cases, stress, anxiety and depressive mood are reaching new heights among working Americans.

State of Mental Health Among Working Americans

Mental Health Challenges Persist, Women and Older Adults Showing Signs of Adaptation

Americans Workers Experiencing
Sustained Mental Strain

14%

For the average working American, stress is 14% higher now than it was in February.

54%

The number of working Americans at risk of depressive disorders has increased 54%.

Improvement in
Women’s Mental Status

20%

From May to June the number of females screening at risk for general anxiety disorder decreased 20%. Men’s risks remained the same.

27%

Women showing risk of depressive disorders decreased 27% while men showed no decrease.

Oldest Workers Faring
Better than Youngest

23%

Workers 60+ had a 23% improvement in feelings of depressed mood from May to June. Those 20–39 showed no improvement.

25%

Unlike with older workers, planning abilities have decreased 25% since February in workers age 20–39 — signaling that tasks are taking longer.

Get the latest Mental Health Index Report

Your Total Brain

Your brain’s 85 billion highly interconnected neurons self-organize into four core systems — emotion, feeling, cognition and self-control. Each of these systems is measured by 12 key capacities, and they fluctuate continuously along a performance continuum from well-being to risk of a mental health condition such as depression, addiction, and ADHD.

You Can Rewire Your Brain

Listen to Total Brain Founder Dr. Evian Gordan and Professor Anthony Hannan, PhD, discuss how to rewire your brain to better manage emotions, stress and anxiety. Listen to Learn More.

Free 3-Month Subscription

Measure the 12 brain capacities that define your mental health and screen for your risk of common mental conditions. Get a free three-month subscription to the Total Brain app.

Sign Up Today

Mental Health Index

The Mental Health Index data is updated monthly so our workers’ mental health and capacity can be monitored as we muddle through these uncertain times. Explore this month’s findings by clicking through the key findings tabs. Learn more about our methodology.

American’s Emotions Continue to Trend Negative

Our emotions greatly influence all other brain capacities, which can also be impaired by mental conditions like depression, anxiety, and ADHD. Watch to Learn More

View Full Emotional Capacities Data

Emotional Awareness

Emotional awareness helps us build relationships and trust. It impacts how well we read emotional cues in others and informs our behavior in uncertain situations.

Emotional Awareness Remains Intact

The pandemic has not caused a significant change in how well working Americans accurately perceive others’ emotions.

Nonconscious Negativity Bias

Nonconscious negativity bias is our natural intuition formed by life experiences. It strongly influences our feelings, motives and decisions. And, it determines how effectively we communicate and collaborate with others.

Nonconscious Negativity is Worsening

Beneath the surface, working Americans are 5% more negative. This equates to more snap judgements and an increase in gut instincts that “things are not quite right.”

Constant Threat of COVID-19 is Triggering Negative Feelings

Working Americans may not necessarily realize it, but the sustained mental and emotional strain we’ve been experiencing during the pandemic is skewing our feelings and perceptions. In short, we are becoming more negative.

This shift isn’t a conscious choice, rather, it is part of the brain’s natural response to the constant looming threat of COVID-19.

Normally, when a threat is detected, the brain activates a threat response to keep us safe. This response triggers feelings of fear and alarm that subside once the threat is resolved. But the COVID-19 threat isn’t being resolved, so the threat response isn’t shutting off. As a result, we’re unable to escape the brain’s threat response triggers. This is causing mental and emotional strain, and an increase in negative feelings.

PODCAST – How To Master Your Emotions

Listen to Total Brain Founder Dr. Evian Gordon’s podcast “How to Master Your Mind and Emotions During This Crazy Time,” where he talks about emotions with John Assaraf. Assaraf is one of the world’s leading behavioral experts. He has written two New York Times bestselling books and appeared on Larry King Live, Anderson Cooper and The Ellen DeGeneres Show.

Listen Now

Stress, Anxiety, Depressive Mood Persist

Feelings are your conscious awareness of, and body’s response to, your unconscious emotions. For example, when you’re feeling stressed or anxious, your body will respond with changes in heart rate, breathing, muscle tension, and sweating. Feelings are triggered by emotions, and emotions are triggered by cues of threat or reward. Watch to Learn More

View Full Feeling Capacities Data

Stress

Stress is a response to an external “stressor” such as a work deadline, an argument with a loved one, the loss of a job, or a major life change. Right now, three major stressors are affecting us all: COVID-19’s impact on health, its negative impact on the economy, and uncertainty about when public health directives can be safely lifted. When external stressors are not resolved, stress becomes chronic and leads to anxiety and depression.

Americans Remain 14% More Stressed

Stress continues to remain elevated with working Americans 14% more stressed than they were during the first week of February. While higher than normal, stress decreased somewhat since May when it was up 28%.

Anxiety

Anxiety is your internal reaction to stress. It is often accompanied by persistent worrying and fearing something bad will happen. Unlike stress, anxiety persists even after the stressor has been resolved. In severe cases, anxiety can lead to an anxiety disorder.

Anxiety Levels Up 27%

Anxiety levels among working Americans have increased 27% since February, peaking at a 54% increase in early April 2020. Overall, anxiety decreased 11% from May to June.

Depressive Mood Level

Feeling sadness, frustration, anger, loneliness, or grief often make up what is considered “depressive mood.”  These feelings, however, lift after a few days or weeks. When these feelings persist over time, you can become clinically depressed.

Gloominess Subsiding Slightly, Still Elevated

Overall, feelings of depressive mood are 31% higher than in February. However, American workers may be rebounding — there was a 13% improvement from May to June.

Rising Stress and Depressed Mood Reversing Among Women and Older Working Adults, Still Increasing in Younger Workers

At the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic in mid-April, the Mental Health Index measured an overall 38 percent increase in feelings of stress and a 54 percent increase in anxiety. Both levels have been falling recently, with stress among women seeing a significant drop. However, despite these declines, stress and anxiety remained substantially elevated at the end of June compared to the baseline. Overall, stress is up 14 percent and anxiety is up 27 percent.

Feelings of depressive mood increased 31 percent between February and June. This percentage dropped over the past month thanks to a 20 percent decrease in depressive mood among women between May and June.

While workers in the 60+ age group are experiencing stress, anxiety, and depressive mood at levels on par with February, the youngest working adults have not fared as well. Among those aged 20–39, stress increased 13 percent, anxiety increased 25 percent, and depressed mood increased 30 percent since February.

Not surprisingly many of those factors directly impact employee performance, as documented over decades of research on stress and anxiety in the workplace.

PODCAST – Anxiety: It’s Trying to Teach Us Something

Listen to Total Brain Founder Dr. Evian Gordon’s podcast “What Can People with Anxiety Teach Us?” with Dr. Heidi Hanna PhD. They discuss how feeling anxious is a normal part of a healthy life and how to practice stillness.

Listen Now

Stress and Anxiety Hindering Focus and Planning in Younger Employees

Your cognitive capacity determines how well you learn, remember, pay attention and solve problems. It impacts how quickly you can complete tasks and how many mistakes you make while doing so. Chronic stress and anxiety can result in cognitive decline over time. Watch to Learn More

View Full Cognitive Capacities Data

Memory

Stress and anxiety can hinder the way we form and retrieve memories. It can make you more forgetful. For example, you may find yourself forgetting where you left your phone, or have a hard time recalling names.

Slight Improvement in Memory

In the past month, workers showed a 4% improvement in memory. However, overall, memory is still comparable to the level it was at in February.

Focus: Controlled Attention

Increased levels of stress not only cause us to become more irritable, but also impact our ability to focus. For example, it’s common for stress to cause people to make more mistakes.

Overall Focus Not Affected

Though workers are dealing with additional challenges, overall, there hasn’t been a notable increase in the number of errors they’re making.

Planning

Stress negatively affects your ability to plan and complete tasks on time. When you’re stressed, concentration declines and the amount of time it takes you to complete tasks increases.

Productivity Has Dropped Significantly

A high level of stress is proven to take a toll on productivity. Overall, chronically stressed U.S. workers are taking 8% longer to complete tasks. The decrease is driven primarily by struggling younger workers.

Stress, Anxiety Affecting Cognition, Youngest Workers Particularly Impacted

Chronic stress and anxiety are known to diminish cognition. Therefore, it isn’t surprising that working adults are showing signs of cognitive difficulties. In fact, the longer U.S. workers continue to endure elevated levels of stress and anxiety, the greater the likelihood of decreased cognition.

With employees’ brains stuck in fight-or-flight mode due to the ongoing threat of COVID-19, the brain’s capacity for higher-level, intense reasoning, planning and innovating is compromised.

COVID-19 has impacted cognition for workers across all age groups. However, according to The Mental Health Index data, younger adults may be struggling more to adapt. The 20-39 age group of working adults was the only group in which focus declined from May to June. Also, productivity decreased by 25 percent among this age group since February, whereas productivity was not lower in those 40 and older.

Ultimately, when individuals are anxious and afraid, it becomes harder to complete complex tasks. While some workers are showing signs of adapting to sustained mental and emotional pressure brought on by the pandemic, the reality is that many employees are having difficulty concentrating, completing tasks in a timely manner, thinking and reasoning, and juggling responsibilities.

PODCAST – Change Your Life with Darwin’s Thinking System

Listen to Total Brain Founder Dr. Evian Gordon’s podcast “Charles Darwin’s Golden Rule,” with Chris Darwin, a great, great grandson of Charles Darwin. They discuss the importance of challenging your biases and considering various options to the problems you’re facing.

Listen Now

Still Elevated, Negativity Lessens in Some Working Americans While Resilience Improves Slightly

Our ability to control our behavior enables us to achieve goals, resist temptation, avoid acting on impulse, and maintain our mental and physical health. When under high levels of stress, people tend to become more negative and less resilient. As a result, they may lose the ability to self-regulate their behavior, which leads to a myriad of problems, including obesity, addiction, poor financial decisions, sexual infidelity, and more. Watch to Learn More

View Full Self-Control Capacities Data

Resilience

Resilience allows us to bounce back when something bad happens. It’s the ability to adapt in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, or other significant sources of stress. Resilience can drop quickly after an emotionally distressing event or a particularly stressful period in life.

Resilience Is Creeping Upward

U.S. workers’ resilience had been declining during the pandemic. But after improving one percentage point in May, it inched up another 2% in June — suggesting workers are adapting to unending pressure.

Conscious Negativity Bias

Conscious negativity bias – the tendency to see the “cup half empty” rather than the “cup half full” – can rise in times of uncertainty and discouragement. It’s a disproportionate focus on problems rather than opportunity. And, it’s highly contagious. That’s why one very negative person can disrupt an entire group or team.

Working Americans 11% More Negative in Wake of COVID-19

Working Americans’ outlook trends negative. Overall, negativity has increased 11% since February. However, considering negativity was measured at having increased 23% by May, negativity being up only 11% shows improvement over the past month. The recovery was largely due to women showing less negativity in June.

Social Connectivity

Social connectivity reflects the extent to which people proactively seek and gain enjoyment from social interaction.

Connecting with Others Is More Important Now

Social connectivity scores have increased 5% since February 2020, with a peak 6% increase in March and through April.

Women Cause a Bump in Resilience and Dip in Heightened Negativity

Recently, some interesting trends have emerged related to resilience. The Mental Health Index previously reported that resilience was down four percent. While it makes sense that resilience could decline further as the pandemic drags on, resilience is currently making an upward turn.

Among working women, resilience improved three percent from May to June, bumping up resilience by two percent overall. Resilience improved four percent among middle-aged workers in June. These groups may be adjusting better now to COVID-19 than they had been previously.

Besides showing more resilience, conscious negativity bias decreased among working women by 10 percent from May to June. Negativity had previously been rising more in women than in men, but that gap is closing. Still, both groups sit above the baseline for conscious negativity bias — meaning they lean more negative than positive.

To offset increased negativity, stress, and anxiety, many Americans are showing greater appreciation for social connections and the people in our lives. Social connectivity scores have increased by five percent overall.

If states and businesses are able to reopen successfully and enable more social interaction, mental health should improve. However, if one step forward turns into two steps back, and Americans are further isolated from family, friends, co-workers, and others in their lives, it may be detrimental to mental health. This is something to watch closely.

PODCAST – COVID-19 Captivity: Social Connectivity During Pandemic

Listen to Total Brain Founder Dr. Evian Gordon’s podcast “Social Connectivity in the COVID-19 Era,” with Dr. Shelley Carson PhD, a Harvard-trained psychologist. They discuss why social connectivity and social support is important for stress mastery, especially during these uncertain times.

Listen Now

Risk of Mental Disorder Is Higher Due to Pandemic

COVID-19’s assault on mental health is causing more Americans to screen positive for risk of certain mental disorders.

View Full Mental Conditions Data

Addiction

When chemicals from drugs or alcohol hit the brain’s reward receptors in bursts, it triggers a response similar to a highly pleasurable event. As the person repeats and increases substance use, the receptors degrade to the point that they cannot respond to un-intoxicated pleasure in the same way as they once did. The brain gets re-mapped to seek pleasure through intoxication rather than healthier activities, and as this new mapping takes hold, addiction is born. Watch to Learn More

Addiction Risks Peaked Early During Pandemic

After climbing during March and April, the risk of addiction for workers has fallen back down to the range where it was in February.

Depressive Disorder

Depression is more than a bout with the blues. When feelings of sadness and hopelessness persist and worsen, you may be clinically depressed. Some people are predisposed to depression based on genetics and the brain’s chemical makeup. Chronic stressful life situations can also increase the risk of developing depression if you aren’t coping well.

Risk for Depression Beginning to Normalize

The risk for depression among working Americans skyrocketed in late May to 163% greater risk. In June, risk is leveling out and is now 54% greater than pre-COVID levels.

General Anxiety Disorder

Persistent and excessive worry are common indicators of general anxiety disorder. People with this condition find it difficult to control their worry and don’t know how to stop the worry cycle. As a result, they overthink, lose sleep, and agonize more than seems warranted for the situation. Stress is a common trigger for anxiety and if it becomes chronic it can lead to an anxiety disorder.

More Workers Screening Positive for General Anxiety Disorder

Working Americans’ risk for general anxiety disorder has increased 41%.

Social Anxiety Disorder

People who have social anxiety disorder have intense fear of being judged negatively or rejected in social situations. They often worry about being perceived as stupid, awkward, or boring. It can significantly impact their ability to socialize and communicate with other people.

Risk for Social Anxiety Disorder is Similar to Pre-COVID Level

Despite some upward movement during the pandemic, the risk for social anxiety disorder is no longer increasing among U.S. workers.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that’s triggered by a traumatic event. Most people who experience a distressing event may temporarily have trouble coping. However, they get through it with time and self-care. When symptoms persist for months and years, interfering with daily life, you may have PTSD.

Risk for PTSD Significantly Higher During Pandemic

The number of American adults flagging at risk for PTSD was 49% higher in June vs. February. Risk of PTSD peaked at 86% in early April.

Sleep Apnea

Stress and anxiety may cause sleeping problems. And, having an anxiety disorder compounds the problem. Sleep apnea is a condition in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts while sleeping.

Sleep Apnea Rates Up Slightly Among Working Adults

From May to June, working Americans screening positive for sleep apnea increased by 14%.

Pandemic Causes Greater Prevalence of Mental Health Conditions

Depression rates are 54 percent higher than normal for working Americans. The risk for general anxiety disorder has increased 41%. The pandemic has changed life in so many ways, and for many Americans, coping and managing mental health is simply harder than it used to be.

As reported elsewhere in The Mental Health Index, younger working adults appear to be struggling more with certain mental health issues. They also have a higher risk than other age groups of screening positive for being at risk of both depressive disorder and general anxiety disorder.

For many younger people — who may not have the same family responsibilities as older adults — social engagements and spending time with friends are often priorities. Having this aspect of life disrupted may be contributing to some of the struggles younger working Americans are experiencing.

While the pandemic itself may eventually lead to healthcare workers and others being diagnosed with PTSD, it is too early to capture this data. However, right now, the fear and anxiety people are feeling as a result of the pandemic potentially could to stir up feelings from past traumas. Therefore, the 69 percent increase in working men who are flagging at risk for PTSD is not surprising.

PODCAST – Depression Prevalent and Growing in America

Listen to Total Brain Founder Dr. Evian Gordon’s podcast “What Can People with Depression Teach Us?” with Dr. David Whitehouse MD, PhD. Depression is excessively prevalent and growing in our society. They discuss how to maximize the functioning of our brain and minimize the threat of depression.

Listen Now

PODCAST – Addiction During the Pandemic

Listen to Total Brain Founder Dr. Evian Gordon’s podcast “The Hurricane of Addiction,” with Dr. David Whitehouse MD, PhD. They discuss how easy it is to fall under the power of addiction — especially during these uncertain times — while addressing how to restore and reconnect your brain pathways to survive.

Listen Now