Almost Half of Americans Say the COVID-19 Pandemic Has Affected Their Mental Health

Supermajority Education Fund

April 6, 2020

A new poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation highlights the toll the coronavirus outbreak and the related stay-at-home orders are taking on the mental health of people across the United States. Conducted between March 25 and 30, the tracking poll found that 45 percent of Americans said the COVID-19 pandemic and related shutdowns had affected their mental health, and that 19 percent of those polled said that the public health emergency had a “major impact” on their lives. 

Women and Americans of Hispanic and Black descent were slightly more likely to report that their mental health was being affected by the outbreak. Additionally, the poll found that more than seven out of ten Americans said the coronavirus had disrupted their lives in some way, a 30 percent increase from just two weeks prior. The pollsters also found that “while Americans increasingly worry about the impact on their own incomes, about half (53%) continue to be worried that they or a family will get sick from coronavirus.”

Mental health hotlines are also reporting a sharp increase in calls and texts from worried Americans. The Center for Public Integrity found that the Federal Disaster Distress Helpline received the largest number of calls in March since Hurricane Harvey in 2017. In recent weeks, New York State opened a mental health hotline staffed by trained volunteers, specifically for residents suffering during the outbreak. 

The demand for mental health resources comes as many families struggle to work from home while balancing child care responsibilities and the shift to online learning as schools remain closed. Therapist and author Kathleen Smith suggests that parents and caregivers in particular take a step back and assess their families’ needs if they are feeling overwhelmed. 

“It’s important to realize that too much togetherness can make us anxious and irritable. But you don’t have to act on that anxiety or frustration,” Smith, who released her book “Everything Isn’t Terrible” in December, told Supermajority News. Instead, she recommends that everyone “really define what being responsible for their mental health looks like. Because if you don’t have a plan, it’s that much harder to do good thinking on a really bad day.”

In particular, Smith observed that it is common for parents to try to “over-function” for their children during times of high stress. “Rather than assuming you know what your children need right now, why not ask them? Families tend to calm down a little when everything feels like their thinking has value,” she said. “Your children might have creative ideas that never occurred to you.”

Smith also suggested that anyone experiencing coronavirus-related stress and anxiety right now identify and then minimize their exposure to the things that trigger them — like limiting time spent reading and watching the news. “But it’s also important not to criticize yourself if you begin to slip into those habits,” she said. “Just observe the behavior, and then ask yourself, is there a better, kinder thing I could be doing for myself right now?”