COVID-19 has Anxiety and Depression on the Rise. Here’s Why It’s Happening — And How Social Workers Can Help.

Nearly three years into the global COVID-19 pandemic, the toll it’s taking on our mental health is intensifying.

According to the World Health Organization, the prevalence of anxiety and depression has increased 25% worldwide in the wake of the pandemic. In the United States, the outlook is even more extreme: One report has found anxiety up 50% and depression up 44% among American adults. Among younger adults, aged 18-29, rates of both conditions were up over 60%.

COVID-19 has turned our world upside down in so many ways. Why, specifically, are we seeing such a huge surge in depression and anxiety right now? There are many reasons.

Complex grief

Grieving the loss of a loved one is always hard, but it’s even harder during a global pandemic. Many people were not able to say goodbye to their loved ones in person, and funeral and memorial services have frequently been limited or canceled completely. According to Scientific American, the COVID-19 pandemic has put many people at risk of experiencing intense and prolonged grief that can make daily life unmanageable.

Illness and unhealthy routines

Getting sick and being unable to live your normal life can be a depressing experience, even under normal circumstances. But for those coping with long COVID or post-COVID conditions, the situation can be even more upsetting than normal. Little is known about the long-term impact of these conditions, and that uncertainty makes coping a lot harder than dealing with a common flu or cold. More than one million Americans may now be facing a long-term disability as a result of a COVID-19 infection.

We also know that during the pandemic, many people’s alcohol use increased and sleep patterns struggled. Heavy drinking and sleeplessness are also factors than can contribute to worsening mental health.

Economic struggles

Money troubles — getting laid off, losing work, or being unable to work due to a new disability — are also a big driver of anxiety. COVID-related economic uncertainty is unlikely to go away any time soon. As companies continue to reel, adapt, and chart an uncertain future, workers are at increased risk of unemployment and tough economic circumstances, which can adversely affect mental health.

Everyday uncertainty

Even if a person hasn’t been impacted by any of these specific circumstances, the everyday uncertainty of navigating life during a disruptive, life-threatening global pandemic can be enough to put a person’s mental health on the decline. More Americans than ever are reporting regularly experiencing fear, sadness, loneliness, and worry.

So, what can be done to support this newly stressed and depressed population? Social workers are poised to help in unique ways.

Social work is all about supporting individuals and communities through hardships and challenges. Social workers use their professional expertise to advocate for people who need it and help them tangibly change their circumstances for the better. Whether in an office, a school, or a hospital, social workers work directly with clients, as well as within larger structural systems, to create meaningful change.

To turn the tide of these alarming trends, it’ll take a lot more people stepping up to be part of the solution. A Master’s Degree in Social Work is a great place to start. See how you can help improve community mental health and well-being by becoming a social worker.

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