The Hidden Toll Of COVID-19: Understanding The Effects On Mental Health

Medically reviewed by Melissa Guarnaccia, LCSW
Updated May 14, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

If you're in crisis due to impacts from the pandemic or your job, you can call the Physician Support Line from Monday to Friday, 8:00 AM to 12:00 AM ET. You can reach them at 1-888-409-0141. They also offer a list of resources for medical providers facing mental health concerns.  

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a far-reaching impact on the world and caused widespread disruption. Although the physical effects of the virus have been well documented, the mental health impact may have been largely overlooked. The pandemic brought a range of new stressors and challenges for some families and individuals, which can significantly impact mental health. 

If you've had COVID-19 or know someone who has, it may be beneficial to understand the impact of COVID-19 on mental health, explore its potential causes, and examine how individuals and communities might support each other during this time.

Take control of your mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic

The hidden toll of COVID-19 on mental health

The COVID-19 pandemic interrupted the lives of many individuals worldwide, inciting a "new normal" characterized by uncertainty, stress, and anxiety. 

The pandemic resulted in widespread job loss, financial instability, and social isolation, all of which could have contributed to a marked increase in mental health struggles. Below are a few other impacts of the pandemic on mental health.

Increased stress and anxiety

The pandemic encouraged a stressful environment for many people. The fear of contracting the virus, the uncertainty surrounding the future, and the constant exposure to overwhelming news could have increased stress and anxiety levels. Due to constant exposure to stressors, people may have developed anxiety or experienced worsened anxiety. The stress and anxiety caused by the pandemic could also have significantly impacted sleep patterns, with some individuals reporting difficulties falling or staying asleep.


Depression was another mental illness that became more prevalent during the pandemic. Social isolation, financial insecurity, and the loss of loved ones could have all contributed to increased levels of depression. People may feel lonely and isolated and struggle to find meaning and purpose after the significant life transitions that may have come with this global event. The pandemic might also have disrupted mental health services, making it more difficult for people to get support. 

Substance use

The pandemic may have increased the usage of substances. Some people may have turned to these substances to cope with the stress and anxiety of the pandemic. Substance use exacerbates existing mental illnesses and could cause the development of new symptoms. 


If you are struggling with substance use, contact the SAMHSA National Helpline at (800) 662-4357 to receive support and resources. Support is available 24/7.


The fear of contracting the virus and the resulting changes in people's daily routines could have led to new mental health conditions, such as agoraphobia. Agoraphobia involves a fear of panic attacks and anxiety in public places. It can involve a fear of crowds or leaving the house, leading to a deterioration in physical and mental health. The pandemic might also exacerbate agoraphobia in people who already have it. 

Ways to support mental health during the pandemic

Given the significant impact that the COVID-19 pandemic could have on mental health, finding ways to support yourself and your community may be beneficial. Below are a few strategies for maintaining mental health during challenging events. 

Connect with others

Social support has been connected with improved mental health and physical well-being. Reaching out to friends and family, joining online communities, and participating in virtual events may reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation for some people. 

Practice self-care

Self-care might be crucial for maintaining mental health and can take many forms. Exercise, meditation, and mindfulness are all effective ways to reduce stress and promote well-being. Taking breaks from the constant barrage of news and social media could also reduce stress and anxiety. Try to prioritize self-care activities that bring joy and happiness, such as reading, gardening, or cooking. 

Take advantage of community resources

Some communities may have established support groups and resources for individuals and families affected by the pandemic. Taking advantage of these resources and reaching out for help could help you connect with short and long-term support. Joining a support group could provide a sense of community and reduce feelings of isolation.

Educate yourself

Education can be a tool for promoting mental health. By learning about the potential effects of the pandemic on mental health and how people support each other, individuals may better understand and manage their mental health.

Prioritize self-compassion

Practicing self-compassion may reduce feelings of stress and anxiety and promote well-being. Be kind and understanding with yourself, and recognize that you are doing the best you can in challenging situations. 

Seek professional help

If you feel overwhelmed or feel the pandemic has negatively impacted your mental health, seeking professional help might be advantageous. Mental health professionals can provide support and guidance and help you develop stress and anxiety management strategies. 

Take control of your mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic

Consider online therapy

Some people may struggle to find therapy after COVID-19 due to financial insecurity or a busy schedule. In addition, some individuals may not want to leave home during the pandemic to safeguard themselves and their loved ones from sickness. In these cases, online therapy through a platform like BetterHelp may be beneficial. 

Through therapy, individuals can gain the opportunity to discuss their experiences with a trained professional. Therapy could also provide individuals with the tools and resources to build resilience and maintain mental health in the long term. On an online platform, clients can choose between phone, video, and chat sessions and attend sessions from home, which can provide safety during COVID-19 outbreaks.  

One study has shown that therapy exercises, including Eurythmy Therapy, may help individuals manage the symptoms of COVID-19. In the study, a 23-year-old male performed self-administered eurythmy therapy during a 14-day quarantine. He reported positive effects in relaxation and vitalization of the exercises on COVID-19 symptoms such as headache, fatigue, dyspnea, chest pain, body tension, and asthenia. This study may suggest that therapy exercises when performed on a self-help basis, may be a valuable tool for managing the symptoms of COVID-19 and promoting mental health. 


The COVID-19 pandemic profoundly impacted the mental health of millions of Americans, and its effects might be felt in the future. However, by taking advantage of community resources and professional help, individuals may better manage the results of the pandemic on their mental health. Self-care activities that bring joy and happiness can help you focus on self-compassion and healing as you cope with the impacts of the pandemic. 

If you're struggling to cope with your symptoms or move forward, you can also consider contacting a licensed therapist for support. Professionals are there to guide you as you learn more about your mental health and coping.

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