We're Not Talking Enough About This COVID-19 Side Effect

Mental illness is affecting people who didn't even get the virus.

We're Not Talking Enough About This COVID-19 Side Effect

We talk a lot about many parts of the COVID-19 pandemic: How many have contracted the coronavirus, how many have died, and how many have been fully vaccinated. Who is asymptomatic, and who becomes a long-hauler. But there's one aspect that we aren't talking about enough — one that is affecting people who didn't even get the coronavirus: mental illness.

A Mental Health Crisis

The pandemic has triggered a mental health crisis in the U.S., Surgeon General Vice Adm. Vivek Murthy told Dr. Oz on Tuesday. He added that the number of people struggling with depression and anxiety has increased, for both adults and kids. Four in 10 adults reported these mood changes during the pandemic, when just one in 10 reported these feelings before mid-2019.


And for those healthcare workers dealing with the pandemic on the frontlines, more than half have said they are burned out and concerned about their own health, as well as their family's health, Murthy said.

Symptoms of depression can include sadness, loss of energy or interest in activities, and thoughts of suicide. Symptoms of anxiety can include feeling nervous, having a sense of impending danger, and an increased heart rate. These feelings can easily be attributed to quarantining at home alone, social distancing from friends, losing a job, switching to a virtual school, and hearing constant news of people getting sick or dying.

Thankfully, the Biden Administration is working hard to get Americans vaccinated and end the pandemic. All adults should be eligible to get the shot by April 19, which is about two weeks ahead of the initial May 1 deadline, Murthy said. And just on Saturday, a record 4 million people were vaccinated across the country.

While this is good progress to stop the spread of COVID-19 in the U.S., it's not likely to stop our mental health crisis at the same time.

Pandemic-Related Mental Illness May Linger for Years

Research has shown that the mental health effects of a disaster like this pandemic linger far beyond the physical impacts, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. This means that we could see people struggling with mental illness long after the pandemic itself ends.

One study found that healthcare providers who worked during an outbreak were still dealing with mental health effects up to three years after the outbreak ended. And this could have serious consequences. Another study projects that, "based on the economic downturn and social isolation, additional deaths due to suicide and alcohol or drug misuse may occur by 2029."

For those struggling with depression or anxiety during this historic pandemic, Murthy wants you to know it will get better if we open up about this private pandemic side effect.

"You are not alone. You are not broken in some way. We need to stick together. ... We'll come out even stronger than we were before the pandemic," Murthy said.

We Must Face Our Struggles Openly and Honestly

How can we address this rising cost of the pandemic? Murthy suggested three things:

  1. Talk honestly about our struggles and how the pandemic has affected our mental health.
  2. Work to better understand these mental health struggles like depression and anxiety.
  3. Come up with strategies to not only confront our own feelings but to deal with the challenges of others affected as well.

If you or someone you know needs to talk, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has counselors available 24/7. You can chat online here, or talk on the phone by calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

And for more resources on recognizing depression, anxiety and other mental illness, visit Dr. Oz's Mental Health hub here.

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