Five Signs Revealing the Impact of Spreading COVID-19 on Mental Health

April 1, 2021
April 1, 2021

Around the world, COVID-19 has left no one unaffected—there are the hospitalized, the infected, the recovered, those who know someone who has been infected, those mourning, and those wondering if they already were, currently are, or will inevitably be infected. While the stress of this global pandemic weighs differently on each person, there are specific ways it is impacting the mental health of most individuals around our world. Regardless of how each individual feels the stress of the current situation, most of us are spending more energy considering how we handle ourselves and our interactions with others in a way no one in our lifetime has.

While this virus does not discriminate, we are now seeing disproportionate levels of Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and other communities of color being hit the hardest. The COVID Tracking Project’s Racial Data Tracker (2020) reports: “Nationwide, Black people are dying at 2.4 times the rate of white people.” It is important to note when considering the impacts of COVID-19 on mental health in the U.S. population, not all communities are impacted equally by the virus, and therefore, by its aftereffects on mental health.

The stress spent navigating a global crisis can include keeping our loved ones safe, managing job loss, handling new stressors in a home or work environment, and dealing with anxiety and depression related to the virus. Following are five indications that COVID-19 is pushing the U.S. toward a mental health crisis along with what may be rooted underneath:

  1. Surges in calls to suicide hotlines: Calls to the Disaster Distress Helpline at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) in March 2020 increased 891% compared to March 2019 (Levine, 2020).
  2. Increases in mental health screenings and prescriptions for depression and anxiety: In July 2020, Mental Health America (MHA) reported their largest monthly number of mental health screenings. MHA President and CEO, Paul Gionfriddo said, “In July, more than 72,000 of our screeners indicated moderate to severe symptoms of depression, more than 39,000 had moderate to severe systems of anxiety, and more than 19,000 had symptoms of psychosis—the highest numbers we have ever seen” (MHA, 2020). Between mid-February and mid-March 2020, Express Scripts observed a weekly increase of filled antidepressant, anti-anxiety, and anti-insomnia prescriptions by 21%. In the same time period, prescriptions increased for anti-anxiety medications (34.1%), antidepressants (18.6%), and anti-insomnia drugs (14.8%). The chart below demonstrates the spike in filled prescriptions that coincided with COVID-19 being pronounced a global pandemic (Express Scripts, 2020).
  3. Reports of suicide deaths among healthcare workers treating COVID-19 patients: Existing studies suggest nurses and physicians are at a higher suicide risk than the general population (Carr, 2020; AFSP, 2020). With the added strain from the COVID-19 pandemic, suicide attempts and deaths among healthcare workers treating COVID-19 patients have been reported (Knoll et al., 2020).
  4. Sharp rise in alcohol sales may suggest intensified addictive behaviors: While the U.S. is expected to see a rise in addiction rates and substance abuse in the coming months resulting from the pandemic, the rise in alcohol sales at the onset of the stay-at-home orders may indicate many Americans began drinking alcohol more than usual. One recovery treatment center surveyed 1,000 Americans—over half (55%) reported an increase in alcohol consumption and over one-third (36%) reported an increase in illicit drug use (LaNeve, 2020).
  5. Rise in contact volume to National Domestic Violence Hotline: When shelter-in-place orders went into effect across the nation, the National Domestic Violence Hotline, known as The Hotline, experienced a rare decrease in contact volume. However, as stay-at-home orders began to lift, likely allowing victims to safely access support, the Hotline’s contact volume increased by 15%. The Hotline reported approximately 10% of contacts indicated COVID-19 had impacted their situation (The Hotline, 2020).


The COVID Tracking Project. (2020). The COVID racial data tracker. The COVID Tracking Project at The Atlantic. Retrieved from:
Express Scripts. (2020). America’s state of mind report, U.S. trends in medication use for depression, anxiety and insomnia. Retrieved from:
Knoll, C., Watkins, A., Rothfeld, M., (2020). ‘I couldn’t do anything’: The Virus and an E.R. doctor’s suicide. The New York Times. Retrieved from: 07/11/nyregion/lorna-breen-suicide-coronavirus.html
LaNeve, N. (2020). Drug and alcohol use increase during COVID-19. The Recovery Village. Retrieved from:
Levine, M. (2020). Calls to US helpline jump 891%, as White House is warned of mental health crisis. ABC News. Retrieved from:
National Domestic Violence Hotline (The Hotline). (2020). COVID-19 Special report. Retrieved from:

This blog post is the first in our series of excerpts from the HealthStream article, As COVID-19 Spreads, So Does Its Impact on Mental Health. Future excerpts will include:

  • Underlying Issues Exacerbating Mental Health During Covid-19
  • Social Isolation And Loneliness Linked To Depression
  • Stressful Environments Could Lead To Increased Substance Abuse And Domestic Violence
  • Anxiety And Depression Related To Job Loss And Income Insecurity
  • Stress On Healthcare Workers May Lead To Burnout And Poor Mental Health In An Already Fragile Field
  • Anticipating A Surge Of Mental Health Challenges Alongside Pandemic Aftermath

Download the full article about the impact of Covid-19 on mental health here.

The Mental Health Imperative

As public understanding of mental health issues and disorders grows, the demand for behavioral health services will continue to increase. This growing market must prepare to serve the more than 40 million Americans (one in five) with a mental health condition—56 percent of them currently do not receive treatment. At HealthStream, we understand that behavioral health services and the required competencies may look a little different from other providers. That’s why some of the largest behavioral health organizations in the country have partnered with HealthStream to mitigate risk, improve staff competence, and increase overall efficiency. Explore our solutions for mental health staff and professionals.

PLEASE NOTE: The information in the article excerpted here was considered current at the time of its publishing. However, the COVID-19 pandemic is an ever-evolving disaster due to new findings, data, and availability of resources. Please refer to the CDC website for the latest detailed information when you need it.

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