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.


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.

Men and Women Both See Addiction Risks Return to Pre-COVID Levels

After some upward movement, addiction risks for men and women have returned to a level consistent with where they were before the COVID-19 outbreak.

Risk for Addiction Remains Elevated Across All Age Groups

Across all age groups in June, risk of addiction was up 11% from pre-COVID levels.

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.

After Skyrocketing, Women’s Depression Risk Drops Significantly

Depression risks among working women soared above men’s risks until recently. In June, depressive disorder prevalence in women dropped 17%. Now, men and women have a more equally elevated depression risk.

Risk of Depression Has Only Risen for Youngest Workers

By the end of June, workers in the 20-39 age group had an at-risk screening level for depressive disorder 57% higher than it had been in February. This was the only age group with an elevated risk.

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%.

General Anxiety Disorder Risk Dropping but Still Elevated Among Working

Risk for general anxiety disorder was increasing more rapidly in women than men until recently. From May to June, there was a 20% decrease in the number of working women screening at risk. Now, men’s risk is up 30% since February while women’s risk is up 44%.

Risk of General Anxiety Disorder Has Only Risen for Youngest Workers

Like depressive disorder screening, the only age group that currently is flagging as being more at risk for general anxiety disorder now vs. in February is the youngest group of working adults. They have a 58% higher risk of general anxiety disorder.

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.

Increase in Social Anxiety Among Men and Women Halts

For the first time during the pandemic, the prevalence of social anxiety disorder is no longer heightened for working men or working women.

All Ages See Social Anxiety Levels Similar to Before COVID-19

Thanks to a gradual decrease, the prevalence of social anxiety disorder is no longer heightened for any age group for the first time since the COVID-19 outbreak began.

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.

Working Men at Greater Risk for PTSD

Working men are most severely affected, with risk for PTSD increasing 69%, while working women’s risk increased 26%.

All Ages Have Been Impacted

Working adults in every age group have seen rises in PTSD risks, though June showed PTSD returning to February levels for all ages.

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%.

More Women Flagging Positive for Sleep

There has been no change in the percent of working men screening positive for sleep apnea since February. However, working women flagged for sleep apnea increased 102%.

Middle-Aged Workers Are Flagging for Sleep Apnea More

From February to June, there has been a 36% increase in 40-59 year-olds flagging positive for sleep apnea. By comparison, there has been no change in the percent of working adults in the 20-39 or 60+ age groups screening positive since February.

Pandemic Causes Greater Prevalence of Mental Health Conditions

Americans are recognizing that COVID-related disruptions will likely continue for the foreseeable future. Although there are some signs that suggest people are learning how to adapt, the realization that COVID-19 is going to be part of everyday life for months or years can compound stress, anxiety, depression, and other negative feelings. This, in turn, can lead to a higher risk for mental disorders.

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