Is COVID-19 Causing a National Mental Health Crisis?

The devastating impact that COVID-19 is having on the nation (and the world) goes far beyond the toll on our physical health. From anxiety tied to the constant coverage of rising death rates, the strain of staying home for weeks or months on end (sometimes with small children), or the stress of job loss, the indirect effects of COVID-19 are creating a major mental health burden for Americans.

woman suffering from depression and mental health issues do to isolation of covid 19

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the stress associated with living through a global pandemic may lead to:1

  • Fear and anxiety over your and your loved ones’ health.
  • Disruption of your normal routine, such as when and how often you sleep or eat.
  • Problems concentrating.
  • Worsening of existing physical health problems.
  • Worsening of existing mental health disorders.
  • Increased alcohol or drug use.

The record numbers of people reaching out to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Disaster Distress Helpline may predict the onset of a mental health crisis in this country. In March of 2020, the number of calls to the helpline was nearly 340% higher than just one month prior and almost 900% higher than in March of 2019.2 Many people who need support never call a helpline, so the thousands of people who reached out to this line in March of 2020 represent only a small portion of Americans who are struggling to cope with life during the pandemic.

Even in the best of situations where home is a nice place to be, shelter-in-place orders, sudden financial concerns, and the removal of childcare options has most of us frazzled. In situations where home is unsafe, the coronavirus may make things that much worse. Stress and isolation have been shown to increase the rates of domestic violence and child abuse.3

The American Psychological Association (APA) also surmises that the extreme stress of the pandemic and the quarantine may lead to violence in homes that had not experienced it before.3  Even worse, the resources normally available to victims, such as shelters, may not be an option. According to the APA, victims of violence in the home are at an increased risk of problems such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and substance abuse.3

President Trump told the nation to expect massive increases in depression, drug use, and suicide. While it’s unclear whether the increases will be “massive,” the rising numbers of crisis helpline calls suggest that there may be some truth in his warning.2 Several factors may play into these risks, including panic over potentially becoming ill, increasing levels of stress and anxiety, financial struggles and fears over the economy, feelings of powerlessness or hopelessness, or the trauma of losing a loved one. Experts say that the psychological impact of COVID-19 will remain long after the medical threat of the virus has been resolved.4

While jokey internet memes about drinking away your anxiety during the quarantine are all over social media, substance use during this time may have very serious consequences. Substance abuse is a risk for both mental health problems and suicide,5,6 and unfortunately, the current situation may be leading more and more people to turn to alcohol and drugs for relief, including those who are in recovery.

Nora Volkow, Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), states that people who feel stressed and isolated will often use substances to quell those bad feelings; she further warns that, for those in recovery from addiction, social distancing and isolation may be especially challenging and could increase their risk of relapse.7 Social connection is crucial to recovery, and social distancing measures remove access to in-person support meetings and other face-to-face connections that many find helpful in supporting sobriety.7

Volkow recommends virtual recovery meetings to temporarily replace some of these face-to-face interactions that are so important. Another option for people who need support in recovery or who are struggling with any other personal issues is teletherapy, which allows you to receive treatment remotely when you’re unable to leave home.

If you’re in a crisis situation and you need help immediately—for example, if you are on the verge of relapse—we are here. During the pandemic, addiction treatment is considered “essential,” which means you are allowed to leave your home to get this kind of treatment. Greenhouse Treatment Center provides high-quality treatment for both substance abuse and mental health disorders, and we are open and taking every possible measure to ensure your safety during this time. If you live in another state and cannot travel, call us at . Our parent company, American Addiction Centers, has treatment centers across the U.S. and we can help you find treatment near you.

If you or someone you know needs help dealing with suicidal thoughts, help is available 24/7.

Call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

Veterans can also utilize the Veteran Crisis Line via text 838255 or via online chat with a crisis counselor.


  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). Stress and Coping.
  2. Levine, M. (2020). Calls to US helpline jump 891%, as White House is warned of mental health crisis.
  3. Abramson, A. (2020). National crises ramp up stress among couples and families. Psychologists identify the risks and point to resources that can help. American Psychological Association.
  4. Safai, Y. (2020). Unemployment, isolation: COVID-19’s mental health impact.
  5. National Alliance on Mental Illness. (2015). Suicide.
  6. (2019). Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders.
  7. Volkow ND. Collision of the COVID-19 and Addiction Epidemics. Ann Intern Med. 2020; [Epub ahead of print 2 April 2020].


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