Coronavirus, election stress impacting nation's mental health, psychologists warn

Responding to rise in mental health needs

Becca Raley, Executive Director of Partnership for Better Health, weighs in on ‘America’s News HQ.’

The novel coronavirus and the upcoming election are threatening our nation’s mental health, a leading group of psychologists warned in a new report, adding that up to 8 in 10 adults say the pandemic is a “significant source” of stress in their lives.

The report, issued by the American Psychological Association and conducted by The Harris Poll on the group’s behalf, found that 60% of adults surveyed feel that the number of issues America is facing is overwhelming. 


“Nearly 1 in 5 adults (19%) say their mental health is worse than it was at this time last year,” the report, named “Stress in America 2020: A National Mental Health Crisis,” said. “By generation, 34% of Gen Z adults report worse mental health, followed by Gen X (21%), millennials (19%), boomers (12%) and older adults (8%).”

The report also found that Gen Z is the most likely group to report experiencing common symptoms of depression, with 7 in 10 noting that in the two weeks prior to the survey they felt so tired that they sat around and did nothing, felt very restless, found it hard to think properly or concentrate, or felt lonely, miserable or unhappy.

The APA’s chief executive officer said the report confirms what many mental health professionals have been warning about since the beginning of the pandemic when feelings of isolation and loneliness were paramount, and job security and financial concerns, as well as health and wellbeing, became top concerns.


“This compounding stress will have serious health and social consequences if we don’t act now to reduce it,” Arthur C. Evans Jr., Ph.D., APA’s chief executive officer, said in a news release. “We’re already seeing this with some of the youngest members of our nation, who just seven months into the crisis are beginning to show signs of serious mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety.”

The survey was conducted online between Aug. 4 and 26 and included answers from 2,409 adults age 18 and older in the U.S., and it also surveyed a sample of 1,026 teens ages 13-17. Among the younger group, it found changes to school such as pandemic-related closures had a negative impact on Gen Z, and that the coronavirus “makes planning for their future feel impossible.” More than 65% of older Gen Z respondents who are already enrolled in college also said the pandemic makes planning for the future feel impossible.

“Loneliness and uncertainty about the future are major stressors for adolescents and young adults, who are striving to find their places in the world, both socially and in terms of education and work,” Emma Adam, Ph.D., Edwina S. Tarry professor of education and social policy at Northwestern University, said in the news release. “We must work to provide social, emotional and mental health support to this generation while providing much-needed financial assistance and education and work opportunities for youth. Both comfort now and hope for the future are essential for the long-term well-being of this generation.”  

The APA is calling for more access to mental health services, including substantial federal funding for such services. It also suggests creating opportunities to connect with family, culture and community and helping young people recognize important milestones in new ways. The group called for educators and employers to provide innovative education and work opportunities, and to acknowledge the social sacrifices Gen Z has made during the pandemic.


“As a society, we must galvanize our resources to support teens and young adults,” Evans said. “We need to stand with them to fight systemic injustices, which can be a source of stress relief while supporting them in building their resilience. Then pandemics of racism and COVID-19 will not be overcome quickly. We all need to learn skills to help us manage our stress while we fight for a society that is more equitable, resilient and innovative.”

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