The physical health effects of COVID-19 and the countless deaths the pandemic has claimed have been, and continue to be, devastating on a global scale.
However, the mental health of people across the globe also took a hit. Last year, dozens of Medical News Today readers spoke to us about the stress and anxiety that came with the first waves of lockdown.  People were worried about the emotional impact that the loss of loved ones would have on themselves and on their friends and neighbors. Many found it hard to cope with the grief and isolation, and others found it hard to deal with job loss and financial insecurity.
Throughout the pandemic, MNT have also reported on the unique mental health challenges faced by people of color, Indigenous communities, undocumented migrants, and many others whose baseline of what constitutes mental wellness was already lower than that of the general population. Frontline healthcare workers and others in the caregiving industry faced similar emotional challenges.

Where we were a year ago?

The pandemic has forced some people to work and expose themselves to the virus, while others have benefited from working from home.
At the start of the pandemic, some people enjoyed more relaxed lockdown measures (depending on which country they were in), while others felt safer through strict self-isolation. Still, overall, the mental effects of lockdown did not fail to appear: People reported feeling more agitated, more stressed, more restless, and more sleepless.
Studies confirmed this. A small but worrying survey from March 2020 revealed increased alcohol and cannabis use among people in the United States. They likely turned to these substances in an attempt to relieve their pandemic-induced anxiety and depression.
The same survey found that a whopping 38% of people were feeling tired or lacked energy, 36% were having sleep disturbances, and 25% were feeling down, depressed, or hopeless.

Around 24% of respondents also reported having difficulty concentrating, 43% felt nervous, anxious, or on edge, 36% reported not being able to stop worrying, and 35% said that they were finding it hard to relax.

In the United Kingdom, other studies with larger population samples found similar results. Of the participants, 25% said that their anxiety and depression during lockdown got significantly worse, and 37.5% met clinical criteria for generalized anxiety, depression, or health anxiety at the time (April 2020).

A year ago, however, there was also hope. Hope that, on a mental health level, the pandemic would allow us to slow down, be more mindful, and have more time to reflect.

MNT readers reported finding new working from home arrangements, for those lucky enough to have them, less stressful and more creativity-inducing. Working at a more “human pace,” said one reader, would hopefully enable them to work in more creative and environmentally friendly ways.

So, a year on, have any of these hopes materialized? Has the pandemic had any benefits for our well-being, or are we all worse off across the board? How have our mental health and well-being evolved and changed compared with this time last year?

Where are we now?

Scientists are using huge datasets to track the impact that pandemic control measures have had on people’s mental health. Although the full picture has yet to become clear, we can discern its early contours — and the overall first impression is looking rather bleak.

Scientists are starting to see a global “surge” in depression. According to a December 2020 survey by the U.S. Census Bureau, 42% of people in the country reported symptoms of anxiety or depression that month. This was a huge increase from the 11% they recorded in 2019.

Another study that MNT reported on found that cases of depression in the U.S. had tripled over the course of the pandemic.

The picture looks similar worldwide. One recently published Nature article notes an increase of 9%Trusted Source in depression rates in June 2020, compared with pre-pandemic times, among U.K. adults.

Another study that looked at residents in the U.S., U.K., Australia, and Canada found a 14% increase in anxiety as a result of the pandemic.

An important thing to note is that the pandemic seems to have affected older adults’ mental health less severely, compared with that of younger adults.

Here, the impact may have been buffered by the key element of resilience, though it is also worth mentioning that white older adults fared better than older adults from historically marginalized groups.

Many, though not all, MNT readers confirmed that, from a mental health perspective, things have indeed worsened rather than improved since the early days of the pandemic.

When explicitly asked if things had gotten better or worse, one MNT reader said: “At this stage, worse. While I’m hopeful about the vaccine bringing positive change, the way people have decided that the virus is no longer an issue is a cause of stress. Add in the other challenges that have arisen over the [past] year, and the stress is amplified.”

“Much worse,” said another reader. “I’d say my mental health has slowly declined over the past year.”

Yet another contributor categorically said, “I am feeling much worse a year on, hands down.”

Interestingly, some MNT readers pointed out that resilience is not necessarily protecting them from the adverse mental health effects of the pandemic. Even though they feel stronger, that does not make them feel emotionally better.

One reader said, “I feel I’ve become stronger mentally but have had to overcome stress and loneliness in a way I never would have imagined. [I feel] stronger, but certainly more weary! I’d say [my mental state is] worse overall.”

Another reader mentioned similar feelings, adding:

“The one positive that I can acknowledge 1 year on is that I have a newfound respect for myself and more confidence in my own abilities: I have made it on my own through a very isolating, difficult, anxiety-inducing time, and I remind myself of my own strength every day.”

Others reported feelings of emptiness and indifference at this stage. “I mostly feel sort of numb,” one reader said. “I feel like I go through each day on autopilot,” they added.

Another reader noted that they feel “removed” from other people.

Many MNT readers echo feelings that surveys documented at the start of the pandemic and report that these feelings have amplified. They note a lack of concentration, lack of energy, difficulty sleeping, and unhealthy eating habits.

“I’m exhausted all the time. It’s an emotional exhaustion. That being said, falling asleep is a challenge most nights because it’s the first time in the day when nobody is there, expecting things from me, and my brain begins focusing on every problem, question, or concern I pushed to the side in order to make it through a workday and parenting the children.”

“I have been having sleeping issues,” another reader noted. “I have some nights where I just lie awake, which I rarely had before. Other times, I wake after a long sleep but still feel exhausted, despite not doing much during the week.”

Many readers mentioned a lack of restorative sleep. “I don’t sleep less, but my sleep is of poorer quality, and I often don’t feel restored in the mornings,” said one reader.

Researchers have expressed worry that some of these adverse mental health effects may linger after we come out of the pandemic. “I don’t think this is going to go back to baseline anytime soon,” clinical psychologist Luana Marques — from Harvard Medical School in Boston, MA — told NatureTrusted Source.

Of course, for some people, the baseline was already quite low. This makes things more worrying for them.

“I have experienced exceedingly high levels of anxiety. Older concerns I used to have have come back and seem more overwhelming than ever,” one reader told MNT.

Another reader said:

“I’ve always been a relatively anxious kind of person, but that aspect of my personality has really come to the fore. I am constantly on edge. I no longer find joy in the things I used to love, and my go-to emotion is panic.”

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