With school closures, stay-at-home orders, limited resources, layoffs and an increase in workload – among other situations – COVID-19 has impacted many people’s mental health.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), almost 39 percent of people in the U.S. were experiencing symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder during the second week of May.
“It’s important for us to be aware that the mental health aspect of this pandemic is [being] neglected,” said Dr. Jorge Partida, chief of psychology of the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health (LACDMH).
Dr. Partida says the county has had incremental increases in the number of calls seeking services since the pandemic began. The department has also noticed dramatic rises in levels of domestic abuse, substance abuse, neglect, depression and suicidal attempts. They’ve also noticed a disproportionate impact on communities of color like Boyle Heights.
“I think in the Latino community there are more cases, and also in the African American community. Oftentimes in [these] communities they don’t always have access to medical services,” Dr. Partida added.
In a Google Forum, a survey administration app, 1,000 people who participated in an anonymous survey were asked if COVID-19 had impacted their mental health, with 87.5% voting yes and 13.5% voting no.
While people of different age groups and education backgrounds responded, the majority of those who responded are currently in college (57%) and within the age range of 18-24 (63%). The survey was distributed to college Facebook groups and shared on Twitter.
According to the respondents, the transition from the in-classroom experience to an online platform has been difficult for many. Many said it was difficult to keep up with assignments and they feel unmotivated, anxious, overwhelmed, and frustrated. A few said they dropped their entire classes or were thinking about dropping their classes because it was getting too much to handle.
“The fact that everybody has had a switch from in-person to online learning… creates a different level of stress, but I also think that there’s the uncertainty of the future, the economy, employment ability,” said Dr. Partida.
Katherine Le, 20, a sophomore at Glendale Community College said that prior to COVID-19 she was already struggling with mental health issues like depression, but that structure helped her with daily activities. The switch to online classes has disrupted her structure and daily life schedule, which included socializing with friends.
“Since we’re supposed to be quarantined and isolated it just makes me feel depressed. I’m already depressed so it makes my depression even worse,” Le said.
Le says that she tried to reach out to her school’s counseling services in the past, but they refused to provide her with services unless she was experiencing more serious problems or suicidal thoughts. Le says she was used to having her own space while at school, but feels crowded with her whole family at home.
“I think being at home and trying to find a comfortable place to study and a place where you can really concentrate is difficult, especially when you have large families,” said Dr. Partida.
The Department of Mental Health has purchased access to Headspace, a mindfulness and relaxation app that is available to download for free to Los Angeles County residents in the Apple Store for iOS users or Google Play for Android users.
By April, the install rates for the Headspace app had doubled, compared to mid-March. In the same time period, Headspace saw a 14 times user increase of stress and calming meditations, and a 12 times increase of the users of anxiety exercises.
Le says that there was a moment where she thought she was breaking down so she downloaded the Headspace App to see if it would help her. “In the moment it helps me calm down, it helps me manage my emotions and not overthink. You’re just trying to relax your whole body. [The app] is not so bad,” she said.
A few students responded to the Google Forum survey saying that some professors are assigning way more work than before and it’s difficult to keep up, because they still have jobs and other responsibilities, besides being a student, amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
While most say COVID-19 has impacted their mental health in a negative way, there are a few students who seem to be doing well, or even better than before.
One student said they felt better staying at home. “I needed this break,” they said. “I needed to be home for rest mentally and physically. I have reconnected with nature and I am caught up on school work due to not working so much.”
Another respondent said that they lost their job during COVID, so it’s actually made things easier. “In all honesty, not having to work and just focus on school has been a blessing,” they said. “However, I’ve been stressed and anxious at times with dealing with schools and how my family will pay bills.”
Out of 1,000 people surveyed, 83% said they’ve been coping by texting, calling, or video chatting with their friends or family. About 57% of people said exercising has helped, 36% of people are reading, 34% are taking their mind off of things by playing video games, and nearly 24% are using drugs and alcohol to cope.
The CDC have suggested the use of most of these coping mechanisms, with the exception of using drugs and alcohol. If stress starts getting in the way of your daily activities for several days in a row, experts suggest that you contact your healthcare provider.