Study explores COVID-19 anxiety, depression, substance use


Orders to stay home during the coronavirus pandemic have led to more adults consuming alcohol and drugs to cope with stress.


More than one in four adults (28 percent) said they have used alcohol or drugs to feel better, according to a new University of Michigan study that tracked behaviors a week after the World Health Organization announced the pandemic in mid-March.

Adults are using various coping strategies to deal with mental and physical health concerns related to uncertainty with the pandemic. The concerns include feeling tired or having little energy, trouble sleeping and relaxing, and feeling hopeless and afraid, said Shawna Lee, the report’s lead author and associate professor of social work. She collaborated on the report with social work doctoral student Kaitlin Ward.

The sample included responses from 562 adults, both parents and nonparents — many who indicated their depression and anxiety spiked several days or more in the previous two weeks.

Among the report’s findings:

  • Nearly all respondents were engaging in social distancing, but fewer were in lockdown or social isolation. When asked about worries associated with the coronavirus, 47 percent indicated they worry they can’t afford to pay bills and 53 percent worry that money will run out.
  • About 22 percent said they are using alcohol more, and one in seven said they used marijuana more since the pandemic began.
  • Symptoms of depression were high. Two out of three reported feeling tired or having little energy, trouble sleeping and feeling hopeless. About 32 percent of respondents had symptoms that would indicate major depression.
  • At least 50 percent reported symptoms of anxiety nearly every day or several days a week since the pandemic. Approximately 32 percent of respondents had symptoms that would indicate mild anxiety, about 19 percent for moderate anxiety and 17 percent for severe anxiety.
  • In the immediate aftermath of the pandemic, symptoms of depression and anxiety were much higher than would be expected in the general population. However, respondents also said they were using coping mechanisms such as acceptance (96 percent of respondents), taking action to make the situation better (89 percent), and turning to other activities to take their minds off things (84 percent).
  • Among those in romantic relationships, 22 percent reported having disagreements with their partner related to coronavirus, 19 percent reported more disagreements than usual, and 15 percent reported more verbal fights than usual.
  • Although about one in four respondents were having more conflicts in the first two weeks after the pandemic, a majority (71 percent) said they have felt emotionally closer to their partner than usual.

As disruptions to daily life worsen, mental health professionals need to be prepared for an increase in mental health and substance use problems, Lee said.


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