Mental Health Index

U.S. Worker Edition – February 2021 Update

Despite More Mental Capacities Returning to Pre-COVID Levels, Continued Focus on Mental Health Is Needed

Return to “Normal” Doesn’t Fix Deep-Rooted Mental Health Issues

According to the February Mental Health Index, the improvement reported in January wasn’t just a fluke. For two months in a row, multiple mental health capacities inched back to levels unseen since before the pandemic. By the end of February, stress, resilience, memory, depressed mood, conscious negativity bias, and risk of Depressive Disorder all returned to where they were in February 2020. While these trends are encouraging, there are some key points to understand about the data. For example, COVID may not be impacting mental health as severely as it was, but there are countless lingering challenges. Mental health suffered in 2020, it remains fragile and workers are vulnerable. Future setbacks are inevitable, particularly as life and work continue to change in 2021. Workers will return to offices, social schedules will get busier, and these changes — even when positive — will cause stress. Finally, a return to pre-pandemic mental health isn’t a return to perfect mental health. American workers faced mental health struggles before COVID, and those issues won’t be solved by a vaccine. For these reasons, continuing to prioritize mental health and provide workers support is essential.

Best Case

January’s mental health improvements continued throughout February across multiple mental capacities. The mental strain on workers is less severe now vs. at other points during the pandemic.

Worst Case

Complacency is a concern now that mental health capacities are returning to pre-pandemic levels. Now, the danger is that workers may not receive needed support if employers assume mental health challenges have dissipated.

Every Case

Experiencing 12 straight months of upheaval and trauma makes workers more susceptible to future mental health challenges. Ongoing struggles are expected as workers continue to try to cope and recover from the impact of the pandemic.

Don’t miss our monthly webinars where industry thought leaders gather to review the latest Mental Health Index data and discuss the mental health of working Americans.

State of Mental Health Among Working Americans

Pandemic-Induced Mental Strain Subsiding, Challenges Remain

More Mental Capacities Return to Pre-COVID Level for the First Time


Drop in depressed mood since December, now at pre-pandemic level


Reduction in conscious negativity bias since December, back to pre-COVID level for the first time

Significant Decrease in Risk of Depressive Disorder


Drop from last month’s risk of Depressive Disorder, now at pre-pandemic level


Risk of Depressive Disorder fell since January among workers age 40-59

Mental Health Challenges Persist


Risk of General Anxiety Disorder up again when compared to same time last year


Workers feel less motivated (a symptom of depressive mood)

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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.

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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.

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Total Brain measures the 12 brain capacities that define your mental health and screens for your risk of common mental conditions. Contact us to learn how Total Brain can help improve the mental health and wellness of your employees.

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Mental Health Index

The Mental Health Index data is updated monthly so our workers’ mental health and capacity can be monitored through these uncertain times. The Monthly Key Findings tab shows this month’s highlights. Click through the other tabs to see more updated data charts. Learn more about our methodology.

Notable Mental Health Index Findings from February 2021

Stress Held Steady from January to February

From January to February, stress among U.S. workers remained unchanged. January was the first month that stress was not elevated since the beginning of the pandemic. The lack of change in February confirms January’s findings that workers are less stressed now than they had been. The recent improvement in stress is likely contributing to improvements across other mental capacities.

Resilience Continues to Sync with Stress

Throughout the pandemic, stress and resilience have moved in a similar pattern with resilience increasing when stress deceased and vice versa. Given that resilience is a measure of our ability to bounce back from stress, the linked movement makes sense. Therefore, it isn’t surprising that resilience — like stress — is back at its pre-pandemic level and showed no significant difference between January and February.

Conscious Negativity Bias Is Down 16% Since the End of 2020

Workers’ conscious negativity bias dropped in February to a level unseen since before the pandemic began. As a result of February’s drop, negativity is 16% lower than it was at the end of December 2020.

Memory Improved Recently in Men and Youngest Workers

Workers’ memory has been improving since the end of December when it dipped temporarily. In February, memory was back to its pre-pandemic level. Women had already bounced back in January, but it wasn’t until February that men recovered from the December slump. Also, since December, memory improved 9% among workers in the 20-39 age group.

30% Greater Risk of General Anxiety Disorder vs. Last February

Unlike with most other mental capacities and conditions, workers were more at risk for General Anxiety Disorder this February compared to February 2020. Since January 2021, risk of Anxiety Disorder increased slightly among workers in the 40-59 age group and rose a whopping 441% across those 60+.

Risk of Depressive Disorder Decreased 51% Since the End of 2020

Between January and February, overall risk of Depressive Disorder decreased 30%, declining 50% across the 40-59 age group. February marked the first time since the beginning of the pandemic that working Americans’ risk of Depressive Disorder was not higher than their February 2020 risk level.

Risk of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Decreased in Early 2021

Workers’ risk of PTSD decreased in January and again in February. After falling 28% since the end of December, workers’ risk of PTSD remains the same now as it was in February 2020.

Examining the Emotional State of Workers

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.

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.

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. Watch to learn more.

PODCAST – How Emotions and Feelings Drive You

Total Brain’s Founder, Dr. Evian Gordon, is joined by Dr. David Whitehouse for this podcast about the science behind emotions, feelings, and how they impact us all.

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PODCAST – How to Deal with Negativity in the COVID Era

Listen as Total Brain’s Dr. Evian Gordon talks with Christopher Darwin and Dr. David Whitehouse about ways to successfully manage negativity during the pandemic.

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Tracking Trends in Stress, Anxiety, and Depressive Mood

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.


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. COVID-19’s impact on health and the economy is a substantial stressor right now. When external stressors are not resolved, stress becomes chronic and leads to anxiety and depression. Watch to learn more.


Anxiety is the 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 General Anxiety Disorder. Watch to learn more.

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. Watch to learn more.

PODCAST – Modifying Your Reaction to Stress Can Improve Your Mental Health

Listen to Total Brain Founder Dr. Evian Gordon’s podcast “The Role of Stress in Mental Health” with Dr David Whitehouse MD. PhD. Dr. Whitehouse shares how stress damages mental health and how you can reframe your reaction to stress.

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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.

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Assessing Workers’ Cognition

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.


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. Watch to learn more.

Focus: Sustained Attention

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


Stress can negatively affect 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. Watch to learn more.

PODCAST – Learn How Your Brain Works to Improve Your Performance

Listen to Total Brain Founder Dr. Evian Gordon’s podcast “The Brain — From Knowing to Doing,” with Chris Darwin, a great, great grandson of Charles Darwin. They discuss 5 concepts that impact how you process information and your ability to be a peak performer.

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PODCAST – Learn to Change Your Behavior by Closing the Gap Between What You Know and What You Do

Chris Darwin joins Dr. Evian Gordon for another podcast, this time to discuss “Can Small Step Habits Change Your Life?” Chris shares three essentials for real behavior change.

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Analyzing Workers’ Resilience, Conscious Negativity, and Social Connectivity

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


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. Watch to learn more.

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.

Social Connectivity

Social connectivity reflects the extent to which people proactively seek and gain enjoyment from social interaction. Social connection plays a powerful role in supporting our mental and physical health. Watch to learn more. 

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.

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Monitoring Workers’ Risk of Mental Disorders

COVID-19 is causing more Americans to screen at risk for certain mental disorders compared to before the pandemic.


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.

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. Watch to learn more.

General Anxiety Disorder

Persistent and excessive worry are common indicators of General Anxiety Disorder. People with this condition have an inappropriate triggering of the fight-flight stress system that can make it difficult to control worrying or 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 General Anxiety Disorder. Watch to learn more.

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 your ability to socialize and communicate with other people. Watch to learn more.

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. Watch to learn more.

Sleep Apnea

Stress and anxiety may cause sleeping problems. Having a clinical condition compounds the problem. Sleep apnea is a condition in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts while sleeping. Watch to learn more.

PODCAST – Genetic Information is a Roadmap that Can Teach Us How to Improve Mental Health

Listen to Total Brain Founder Dr. Evian Gordon’s podcast “How Genetic Brain Information Can Empower You,” with Anu Acharya BSc MSc MS. The podcast touches on how our genes impact our disease disposition, and it explores why understanding our genetics and knowing ourselves better can lead to improved mental health and performance.

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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.

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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.

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