the lasting impact of covid on mental health

The Lasting Mental Health Impact of Covid-19

By the summer of 2023, the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic seemed to finally be behind us. Vaccines and effective treatments helped reduce severe cases and deaths to very low levels in most parts of the world. Mask mandates and other restrictive policies had been lifted. Life was starting to return to some sense of normalcy.

And yet, the mental health toll from over two years of lockdowns, isolation, fear, and upheaval is still being felt profoundly. The “new normal” world we’ve transitioned to in the post-pandemic era is markedly different from the pre-pandemic era in ways that continue to impact our psychological well-being.

Effects of the Pandemic on Mental Health

While we are past the worst impact of Covid-19 for our physical health, the impact of the pandemic on our collective mental health remains. Here are some of the more common ways covid-19 is still impacting our society.

Isolation and Loneliness Persist

For many, the loneliness and disconnection of lockdowns never fully went away, even as societies re-opened. Millions grew accustomed to a homebound lifestyle with minimal social interaction. Re-entry anxiety made leaving home and socializing difficult again. Work From Home policies stuck around, reducing daily in-person interaction. 

A 2023 survey found a third of American adults describing themselves as lonely—a 70% increase over pre-pandemic levels. Loneliness puts people at significantly higher risk of anxiety, depression, and early mortality.

Mental Health Crisis Among Youth

Our children and youth bore the brunt of many pandemic disruptions—school closures, canceled activities, and long separations from friends. With academic, social, and emotional development put on hold for critical years, mental health issues have soared among adolescents and young adults. 

The CDC reported dramatic spikes in self-harm, anxiety, depression, and suicide attempts from 2019-2022. Many experts fear a wave of social, educational, and mental health impacts that will ripple through this generation for years.

Pandemic-Driven Financial Strain

While the pandemic itself has faded, economic aftershocks continue reverberating globally. Many individuals and families lost jobs, opportunities, and income that has proved difficult to recover. 

Pandemic debt burdens, reduced savings, and the high costs of relocation, childcare, and other life expenses are fueling sustained financial uncertainty,  and financial stress is one of the strongest predictors of mental illness. A 2022 poll found money was a major source of anxiety for over 60% of Americans.

Mass Trauma and Grief

We also cannot overlook the mass trauma and horrific mortality rates humanity witnessed during COVID’s ferocious peaks. Images of makeshift morgues, overwhelmed hospitals, and thousands dying alone will be ingrained in our collective psyche for generations. 

Millions suffered immense grief from losses of loved ones in a time of isolation and disrupted grieving rituals. Experts warn of a looming spike in cases of PTSD, depression, substance abuse, and other trauma responses.

A Call to Prioritize Mental Health 

Despite these concerning trends, the pandemic ironically helped destigmatize mental health in some ways and prompted more open dialogue around psychological wellbeing. But as businesses and governments have rushed to restore pre-pandemic norms, policies and investments to address the new wave of mental health crises have not kept pace.

Many public health experts are sounding the alarm about the dire need for systemic prioritization and funding of accessible mental health services—both emergent solutions and lasting infrastructure. Innovative programs and tele-health initiatives helped fill some gaps during the pandemic but quickly proved insufficient for the explosion of demand that has yet to subside.

Healthy Ways to Cope with Depression and Anxiety

As we emerge from the worst of the pandemic, it’s crucial to find healthy coping mechanisms to process this collective trauma.

Care for Your Physical Health and Wellbeing

One of the most effective ways to reduce stress is through exercise and physical activity. Going for walks, runs, hikes, or participating in sports gets your body moving and releases endorphins to improve mood.

Yoga, meditation, and deep breathing exercises are other excellent options to calm the mind. Be sure to also prioritize good sleep hygiene, as quality rest allows your body and brain to recharge.

Stay Connected with Others

It’s important not to isolate yourself, even though that tendency may linger from quarantine times. Connect with your social support system of friends and family, whether safely in person or through video chats.

Get Professional Help

Consider seeing a therapist to work through lingering anxiety, grief, or other emotions stirred up by the pandemic experience. Journaling about your thoughts and feelings can also be therapeutic.

Spend Time Doing What You Love

Other healthy outlets include focusing on a hobby you enjoy, listening to uplifting music, spending time outdoors in nature, and practicing gratitude by reflecting on the positive aspects of your life.

Practice Gratitude

Be patient and compassionate with yourself as you find your own healthy groove during this transition. Taking active steps to nurture your mental health will help you emerge from the pandemic’s shadow with greater resilience.