Depression, Anxiety and Mental Health During COVID-19

By Danielle Boland, LCSW

Since the beginning of the pandemic two years ago, there have been many reasons for people’s mental health to be affected — the fear of the unknown when the pandemic first hit, the isolation of quarantine, schools being closed, and constant news filled with an ever-rising death toll. The overall quality of mental health has declined worldwide since 2022.

COVID-19 Mental Health Statistics

COVID-19 has impacted the world, not only physically but mentally as well. Rates of mental health diagnoses have increased since March 2020:

  • Worldwide, anxiety and depression has increased 25% from 2019 to 2022.
  • There were 4.3 million referrals for mental health services in 2021.
  • 1.4 million people are still waiting for mental health services due to lack of providers.
  • In a U.S. study of people aged 18–35, 80% reported significant depressive symptoms and 61% reported moderate or severe anxiety.
  • Young adults and women have been the most affected.

COVID Mental Health Impacts

COVID-19 has changed how people navigate their daily lives, in large part due to the emotional impact of a pandemic.

Studies have shown an overwhelming increase in both anxiety and depression since the beginning of the pandemic. Those with pre-existing mental health conditions had an even harder time during the early pandemic and lockdown due to lack of access to support. During COVID-19, the way we all work and live has drastically changed, and so has social interaction. Many people have discovered unhappiness in relationships after quarantine, or developed an unhealthy relationship with alcohol or other substances. All of these changes can lead to a spike in depression or anxiety.

Trauma and even PTSD are effects of COVID-19 stress. Traumatic stress can occur when a perceived life-threatening situation occurs. With 5.6 million deaths worldwide and the drastic measures taken to prevent the spread and infection of COVID-19, many people have experienced extreme stress and anxiety related to getting sick.

Important milestones seemed to all but diminish during the pandemic as well. Those who lost loved ones were unable to say goodbye or hold funerals to honor them. Many births happened alone and left new parents unsupported. Birthdays, weddings, graduations and other celebrations were all held off due to gatherings being restricted.

COVID and Depression

A report from the CDC states that the number of people who reported feeling depressed had quadrupled since 2020. A study reported that the risk of developing depression after having COVID-19 increased substantially within the first month after illness onset.

Depression symptoms during the pandemic have also been linked to:

  • News-related fatigue
  • Isolation
  • Loss of work
  • Deaths of friends/family
  • Missed milestones, like birthdays, weddings and more

Post-COVID Depression (Long COVID Depression)

Long COVID, or post-COVID symptoms, can occur long after someone was infected with COVID-19. Long COVID can occur four weeks or more after being sick, and can include a wide range of physical and mental health symptoms. Depression is a long COVID symptom that some people experience after being diagnosed with COVID.

According to a study by Johns Hopkins Medicine, those who were hospitalized for COVID-19 have an even greater risk for depression. Depression was more likely to occur due to mind-altering medications, the isolation of the hospital and the fear that occurs during and after having COVID.

COVID Anxiety

COVID anxiety syndrome describes the stress-induced anxiety related to COVID-19. These symptoms can begin to interfere with day-to-day life and have a long-term impact. Studies show that people suffering from pandemic-related emotional distress exhibit higher rates of post-traumatic stress, anxiety, health anxiety and stress, and suicidal thoughts and ideations.

There are specific symptoms that are so commonly related to COVID that an official scale was created to determine if someone may be suffering from COVID anxiety syndrome. Symptoms of COVID anxiety can include:

  • Avoiding public places due to fear of COVID
  • Oversaturating yourself with COVID-related news
  • Concern about social distancing guidelines
  • Intrusive thoughts about getting COVID
  • Avoiding discussions about the virus
  • Constantly checking for COVID symptoms in yourself or loved ones

Anxiety After COVID

Anxiety related to COVID-19 is not the only concern when it comes to the long-term mental effects of COVID. An article from the American Medical Association discusses how pandemic-level illnesses can have long-term negative impacts on mental health, with anxiety lasting for months or even years after contracting the illness.

Situations that can exacerbate anxiety after COVID-19 include:

  • A return to work
  • A “new” normal
  • Long-term health effects of COVID
  • Changes in mask mandates
  • Personal stance on the COVID-19 vaccine

COVID Brain Fog

Many people report experiencing brain fog after contracting COVID-19. Brain fog is described as slow or sluggish thinking and can occur for many different reasons, but is a common long COVID-19 symptom.

Other symptoms of COVID brain fog include:

  • Forgetfulness
  • Difficulty finding words
  • Inability to multitask
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Difficulty learning and retaining new skills and information

How Long Does COVID Brain Fog Last?

In a study completed by Harvard Health, it suggests that some COVID-related cognitive impairments or “brain fog” are reversible. The likelihood of recovery depends on multiple factors, such as age and severity of illness. Recovery is estimated to occur between six and nine months after contracting COVID-19.

COVID Fatigue

Another effect of COVID-19 is exhaustion. Patients who were diagnosed with COVID-19 report feeling excessively tired during their illness and beyond. One explanation for COVID-related fatigue is damage to the immune system. Disrupted immune function and inflammation due to the virus have both been linked to fatigue in COVID-19 patients.

In addition to the physical fatigue, COVID-19 has caused mental fatigue. Worldwide, there is an abundance of COVID coverage on the news, including death tolls, alarming statistics and restrictions. This type of over-consumption can cause anxiety and stress.

Disruption in both sleep quality and length have also been reported after a COVID-19 diagnosis. People report the inability to fall asleep due to COVID-related anxiety and feeling tired despite getting enough sleep.

How Long Does COVID Fatigue Last?

COVID fatigue, like many other long-COVID symptoms, have been known to occur 4–12 weeks after having COVID-19. The duration of COVID fatigue depends on factors such as age, severity of illness and other comorbidities. Generally, symptoms can last from weeks to months.

Mental Health Side Effects of the COVID-19 Vaccine

When the COVID-19 vaccines came out, many different opinions and claims emerged regarding possible side effects. While physical side effects are more common when it comes to vaccines, mental health side effects have been reported as well.

Adverse effects reported for the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine include:

  • Anxiety
  • Fainting

These effects are based on a small sample size. There isn’t sufficient data to support adverse mental health effects from a COVID-19 vaccine.

Can’t Sleep After COVID Vaccine

Bizarre side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine have been reported, with vivid dreams being one of them. These dreams can cause someone to wake frequently and therefore feel unrested.

Anxiety Symptoms After COVID Vaccine

It is not uncommon to feel anxious after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. Although approved by the FDA, the COVID-19 vaccine is new and that can cause people to wonder if long-term effects are possible. Those who have anxiety around needles or are predisposed to anxiety may feel more anxious after receiving the vaccine as well.

Depression After COVID Vaccine

Although depression has been on the rise since the beginning of the pandemic, it is being reported that those who get the COVID-19 vaccine are 17% less likely to develop COVID-related depression than those who are not vaccinated.

Managing Your Mental Health During a Pandemic

If you are experiencing anxiety or depression related to the pandemic, certain techniques can help alleviate those symptoms, including:

  • Develop a daily routine
  • Have a support system
  • Limit social media use
  • Get an appropriate amount of sleep daily
  • Eat nutritious foods
  • Exercise
  • Limit news consumption
  • Meditate
  • Limit alcohol and other substances
  • Try a new hobby
  • Attend therapy sessions

Help is Available

If you’d like help managing COVID-related mental health symptoms, talking to a licensed professional might be the right step for you. There are resources that make it easy to get support. The Nobu app is a free resource with tools, such as mindfulness exercises, goal tracking, journaling and more tips. For an additional fee, the Nobu app can help connect you to a therapist. If you are suffering from anxiety or depression related to COVID, help is out there. Get started on Nobu today.

erica weiman headshot

Edited by – Erica Weiman

Erica Weiman graduated from Pace University in 2014 with a master’s in Publishing and has been writing and editing ever since. She has written and edited content across many niches, including psychology and mental health, health and wellness… Read more.

danielle boland headshot

Written by – Danielle Boland, LCSW

Danielle is a licensed clinical social worker, currently living and practicing in central Connecticut. Danielle graduated from Columbia University in 2012 with a Masters of Social Work, and always had the goal of opening her own private practice. She specializes in women’s issues, maternal health and postpartum mental health.

dr angela phillips

Medically Reviewed by – Dr. Angela Phillips

Angela is a licensed therapist and clinical researcher, and has worked in public, private, government, and not-for-profit organizations, across clinical and research-oriented roles. Angela’s clinical and research experience has included suicide prevention, cognitive behavioral… Read more.