Groups most affected by pandemic-related loneliness, anxiety, depression

Part of the evolving picture of what’s known about the coronavirus includes who is suffering most when it comes to mental health, and experts tracking the findings are offering tips to help build resilience.

“Mental distress, feelings of loneliness, anxiety and depression have increased during the pandemic, with some groups experiencing particularly high levels,” said Elizabeth A. Stuart, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health’s associate dean for education.

Nearly 14% of people asked in an April survey about how they are feeling emotionally chose the survey option of having “serious mental distress,” compared to nearly 4% in 2018, according to Stuart, who has a doctorate in statistics.

The most troubled age group is people 18 to 29 years old.

“This was somewhat surprising given that early on we had concerns that older adults would be seriously affected by this pandemic both physically and mentally because of the social isolation,” she said.

One potential explanation is that seniors have better coping mechanisms, and that younger adults have felt more dramatic changes to their daily lives as a result of the pandemic.

What Stuart does not find surprising is that another group experiencing high levels of mental distress are also suffering financial strain.

Nineteen percent of people in households with incomes less than $35,000 a year experience “serious distress.”

“These are households and individuals who are experiencing multiple challenges and might be particularly vulnerable at this time,” Stuart said.

Other groups experiencing notable mental distress have a household member who has had a change in hours or pay or lost a job.

So, what do you do?

One recommendation for building resilience is to stay in touch with friends and/or family regularly.

“Try to talk to someone every day, if possible with video,” said Johannes Thrul, assistant professor in the department of mental health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

“Second, it’s always important to think about the basics, like exercise, food and sleep,” Thrul said.

“Physical activity can be really important to buffer mental health. Especially if the weather’s nice, try to get outside in the sun, breathe the fresh air, also try to eat well and get a healthy amount of sleep,” he said.

You also might want to adjust how you’re using social media.

“I would suggest limit it to activities that will be most supportive of your mental health, such as interacting with friends and family, rather than just passively scrolling through the newsfeed and taking in information,” Thrul said.

And beware of turning to drugs and alcohol.

“We’ve seen in our data that substance use is related to more mental distress and thus shouldn’t be seen as a helpful coping strategy,” Stuart said.

If you or someone you know is experiencing extreme loneliness, anxiety or depression, you can communicate with a crisis counselor by texting the word HOME to the number 741741.

There’s also help at the National Suicide Prevention hotline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK).

“And, many mental health providers are also offering telepsychiatry appointments during the pandemic, which are a great way to get professional mental health care,” Thrul said.

More Coronavirus news

Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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