What Americans have to say about mental health amid the COVID-19 pandemic

Jamie BallardData Journalist
August 28, 2020, 5:00 PM UTC

As the COVID-19 pandemic stretches on, some Americans are finding that the situation is influencing their mental health – for better or worse.  

In an August 2020 YouGov poll of more than 6,000 US adults, 31 percent say that their mental health has worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic.  

To find out more about why people feel this way, YouGov posed the same polling question to YouGov Chat users and found out a little bit more about how their mental health has been affected during COVID-19. This extended chat-based survey reached 4,819 US adults and offered open-end questions that help researchers find out a little bit more about the public’s feelings. 

“We are living through a collective trauma with so many unknowns, and we are isolated from each other.” 

Among chat users who said their mental health has worsened during the pandemic, more than 300 people used the words “isolation” or “isolated” to describe why they believe their mental health has declined.  

“I live alone and feel isolated/lonely, wondering when I will be able to see friends and family again. I also feel like this situation is hopeless and the news is worse every day. Although I am still employed, I'm worried that will change one of these days. Having more outside stress and less interpersonal connection is weighing on me.”  

In addition to feelings of loneliness and isolation, many YouGov Chat users also mentioned concerns about job losses and personal finance contributing to their poor mental health.  

“Financial stress for me, personally. Things were already difficult before the pandemic hit, but the loss of jobs has been tough.” 

Additionally, many users who say their mental health has declined say it’s because of negative or inaccurate media coverage, how the government has handled the pandemic, political divides, and general uncertainty.  

However, it’s not all bad: about one in nine people (11%) say that their mental health has improved during the COVID-19 pandemic. A handful of users who say their mental health has improved noted that the pandemic has given them time to focus on themselves and their families.  

One person wrote: “Spending so much more time self-sequestered has taken away many of the ‘distractions’ in my life. Hence, I’ve recognized how fortunate I am with what I have - home and family.” 

Many users who said their mental health has improved during the pandemic said it’s because they are introverts.  

“I’m an introvert and there isn’t as much socializing now which keeps me from feeling guilty about skipping things. Also I just like hanging out with my cats and a good book.” 

However, a plurality (46%) of people in this YouGov poll say that their mental health hasn’t gotten any better or worse during the pandemic.  

YouGov Chat users who said their mental health hasn’t gotten better or worse cite a variety of reasons. More than 150 respondents in the chat shared some variation of the sentiment “not much has changed for me.” 

Many of those who say their mental health hasn’t changed are retirees.  

"As a retired person, it has not had as much impact on my life as it may have if I were employed. It has affected our ability to travel and attend movies and concerts, but it has not had a detrimental impact on my mental health yet. If this continues another year I may feel differently." 

YouGov’s data finds that adults over 55 are especially likely (59%) to say their mental health has not been affected by the pandemic.  

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Everyday, members of YouGov Chat are asked to share their opinion on a topic in the news. We allow anyone to take part in these chats, and do not display or weight results in real-time. Instead, to make the experience informative but still interactive, the chat displays weighted data from YouGov Direct to show them how the rest of the country voted. This enables us to pose the question to all, while retaining data accuracy and validity when communicating results. 

YouGov chat seeks to add to the ‘what?’ (the quantitative poll result) by finding the ‘why?” (qualitative open ends) in a member’s own words. Learn more about YouGov Chat here

Methodology for the YouGov Daily survey: The survey is based on the interviews of 6,173 US adults aged 18 and over. Interviews were conducted online August 17 – 18, 2020 and results are weighted to be nationally representative.    

Image: Gender Spectrum Collection