FRIDAY REPRINT -- The Implications of COVID-19 for Mental Health and Substance Use

The COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting economic recession have negatively affected many people’s mental health and created new barriers for people already suffering from mental illness and substance use disorders. In a KFF Tracking Poll conducted in mid-July, 53% of adults in the United States reported that their mental health has been  negatively impacted due to worry and stress over the coronavirus. This is significantly higher than the 32% reported in March, the first time this question was included in KFF polling. Many adults are also reporting specific negative impacts on their mental health and wellbeing, such as difficulty sleeping (36%) or eating (32%), increases in alcohol consumption or substance use (12%), and worsening chronic conditions (12%), due to worry and stress over the coronavirus. As the pandemic wears on, ongoing and necessary public health measures expose many people to experiencing situations linked to poor mental health outcomes, such as isolation and job loss

This brief explores mental health and substance use in light of the spread of
coronavirus. Specifically, we discuss the implications of social distancing practices and the economic recession on mental health, as well as challenges to accessing mental health or substance use services. We draw on data on mental health prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and, where possible, include recent KFF Tracking Poll data and data from the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey, a new survey created to capture data on health and economic impacts of the pandemic.

Key takeaways include:
A broad body of research links social isolation and loneliness to poor mental health, and data from late March shows that significantly higher shares of people who were sheltering in place (47%) reported negative mental health effects resulting from worry or stress related to coronavirus than among those not sheltering-in-place (37%).

In particular, isolation and loneliness during the pandemic may present specific mental health risks for households with adolescents and for older adults. The share of older adults (ages 65 and up) reporting negative mental health impacts has increased since March. Polling data shows that women with children under the age of 18 are more likely to report major negative mental health impacts than their male counterparts.

Research shows that job loss is associated with increased depression, anxiety, distress, and low self-esteem and may lead to higher rates of substance use disorder and suicide. Recent polling data shows that more than half of the people who lost income or employment reported negative mental health impacts from worry or stress over coronavirus; and lower income people report higher rates of major negative mental health impacts compared to higher income people.

Poor mental health due to burnout among front-line workers and increased anxiety or mental illness among those with poor physical health are also concerns. Those with mental illness and substance use disorders pre-pandemic, and those newly affected will likely require mental health and substance use services. The pandemic spotlights both existing and new barriers to accessing mental health and substance use disorder services.

To read the full report, click here.


This article is written by the following:

Nirmita Panchal (,
Rabah Kamal (,
Kendal Orgera ( (,
Cynthia Cox ( (,
Rachel Garfield ( (,
Liz Hamel ( (,
Cailey Muñana (, and
Priya Chidambaram (
Published: Aug 21, 2020

The Implications of COVID-19 for Mental Health and Substance Use