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The Impacts of Staying Home — and Going Out

Mental Health and COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a serious impact on mental health in the U.S.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) during late June 2020, roughly 40% of U.S. adults reported that they were struggling with mental health or substance abuse.

  • 31% reported anxiety/depression
  • 26% reported trauma/stressor-related disorders
  • 13% started or increased substance use
  • 11% seriously considered suicide

The CDC also reported a 24% increase in mental-health-related emergency department (ED) visits for children ages 5 to 11 and a 31% increase for children ages 12 to 17 between January 1 and October 17, 2020.

Northwestern Medicine Psychologist Christina L. Boisseau, PhD, says the main stressors during the pandemic have been:

  • Uncertainty of the future
  • Fear of COVID-19
  • Changes in roles, such as parents taking on the role of teacher
  • Greater isolation or lack of social support

"Research suggests that the pandemic has been particularly hard for those who live alone or have more limited opportunities for social interaction," she adds.

Tough for Teens

Dr. Boisseau says not attending school in person for the past year impacts children's emotional and behavioral wellness. In addition to an increase in anxiety and depression, teens have faced other negative physical health outcomes, including weight gain and sleep difficulties.

"There is also a broad impact on children and teens that goes beyond mental health," says Dr. Boisseau. "With many parents undergoing financial stress, children also face higher rates of stress, and housing and food insecurity."

Impact on Older Adults

Older adults are also particularly vulnerable to mental health challenges during the pandemic. Many older adults have limited access to or are unable to use technology. That has made it hard for them to stay connected to others and reduce the impact of isolation.

"Loneliness has impacts for memory loss, anxiety and depression," says Dr. Boisseau.

Socialization Is the Solution

Dr. Boisseau says that connecting with others is important to improve mental health. After more than a year of increased isolation, for many, returning to a more social routine will be a slow process.

To do this safely, follow CDC guidelines.

Some people may be able to jump right back into old social routines. For others, those activities may stir up anxiety.

"Reintegration anxiety, or anxiety returning to pre-pandemic activities such as going into public places or returning to the office, is natural," says Dr. Boisseau. "It just means that we have not done something for a while and have to get used to it again."

Returning to social activities after an extended period of isolation is a bit like working a muscle. If you have not worked out in a while, picking up that first weight is hard. However, the more you do it, the easier it becomes. To help you feel more comfortable, consider starting with an activity you value, such as seeing a friend.

"One important thing to remember is that it is OK to be anxious about returning to pre-pandemic activities," says Dr. Boisseau.

If you or a loved one finds it difficult to push through the anxiety, consider seeking mental health treatment.