Mental Health, Substance Use, and Suicidal Ideation During the COVID-19 Pandemic

United States, June 24-30, 2020

Mark É. Czeisler; Rashon I. Lane MA; Emiko Petrosky, MD; Joshua F. Wiley, PhD; Aleta Christensen, MPH; Rashid Njai, PhD; Matthew D. Weaver, PhD; Rebecca Robbins, PhD; Elise R. Facer-Childs, PhD; Laura K. Barger, PhD; Charles A. Czeisler, MD, PhD; Mark E. Howard, MBBS, PhD; Shantha M.W. Rajaratnam, PhD


Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. 2020;69(32):1049-1057. 

In This Article


Elevated levels of adverse mental health conditions, substance use, and suicidal ideation were reported by adults in the United States in June 2020. The prevalence of symptoms of anxiety disorder was approximately three times those reported in the second quarter of 2019 (25.5% versus 8.1%), and prevalence of depressive disorder was approximately four times that reported in the second quarter of 2019 (24.3% versus 6.5%).[2] However, given the methodological differences and potential unknown biases in survey designs, this analysis might not be directly comparable with data reported on anxiety and depression disorders in 2019.[2] Approximately one quarter of respondents reported symptoms of a TSRD related to the pandemic, and approximately one in 10 reported that they started or increased substance use because of COVID-19. Suicidal ideation was also elevated; approximately twice as many respondents reported serious consideration of suicide in the previous 30 days than did adults in the United States in 2018, referring to the previous 12 months (10.7% versus 4.3%).[6]

Mental health conditions are disproportionately affecting specific populations, especially young adults, Hispanic persons, black persons, essential workers, unpaid caregivers for adults, and those receiving treatment for preexisting psychiatric conditions. Unpaid caregivers for adults, many of whom are currently providing critical aid to persons at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19, had a higher incidence of adverse mental and behavioral health conditions compared with others. Although unpaid caregivers of children were not evaluated in this study, approximately 39% of unpaid caregivers for adults shared a household with children (compared with 27% of other respondents). Caregiver workload, especially in multigenerational caregivers, should be considered for future assessment of mental health, given the findings of this report and hardships potentially faced by caregivers.

The findings in this report are subject to at least four limitations. First, a diagnostic evaluation for anxiety disorder or depressive disorder was not conducted; however, clinically validated screening instruments were used to assess symptoms. Second, the trauma- and stressor-related symptoms assessed were common to multiple TSRDs, precluding distinction among them; however, the findings highlight the importance of including COVID-19–specific trauma measures to gain insights into peri- and posttraumatic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.[7] Third, substance use behavior was self-reported; therefore, responses might be subject to recall, response, and social desirability biases. Finally, given that the web-based survey might not be fully representative of the United States population, findings might have limited generalizability. However, standardized quality and data inclusion screening procedures, including algorithmic analysis of click-through behavior, removal of duplicate responses and scrubbing methods for web-based panel quality were applied. Further the prevalence of symptoms of anxiety disorder and depressive disorder were largely consistent with findings from the Household Pulse Survey during June.[1]

Markedly elevated prevalences of reported adverse mental and behavioral health conditions associated with the COVID-19 pandemic highlight the broad impact of the pandemic and the need to prevent and treat these conditions. Identification of populations at increased risk for psychological distress and unhealthy coping can inform policies to address health inequity, including increasing access to resources for clinical diagnoses and treatment options. Expanded use of telehealth, an effective means of delivering treatment for mental health conditions, including depression, substance use disorder, and suicidal ideation,[8] might reduce COVID-19-related mental health consequences. Future studies should identify drivers of adverse mental and behavioral health during the COVID-19 pandemic and whether factors such as social isolation, absence of school structure, unemployment and other financial worries, and various forms of violence (e.g., physical, emotional, mental, or sexual abuse) serve as additional stressors. Community-level intervention and prevention efforts should include strengthening economic supports to reduce financial strain, addressing stress from experienced racial discrimination, promoting social connectedness, and supporting persons at risk for suicide.[9] Communication strategies should focus on promotion of health services§§§§,¶¶¶¶,***** and culturally and linguistically tailored prevention messaging regarding practices to improve emotional well-being. Development and implementation of COVID-19–specific screening instruments for early identification of COVID-19–related TSRD symptoms would allow for early clinical interventions that might prevent progression from acute to chronic TSRDs. To reduce potential harms of increased substance use related to COVID-19, resources, including social support, comprehensive treatment options, and harm reduction services, are essential and should remain accessible. Periodic assessment of mental health, substance use, and suicidal ideation should evaluate the prevalence of psychological distress over time. Addressing mental health disparities and preparing support systems to mitigate mental health consequences as the pandemic evolves will continue to be needed urgently.

§§§§Disaster Distress Helpline ( 1-800-985-5990 (press 2 for Spanish), or text TalkWithUs for English or Hablanos for Spanish to 66746. Spanish speakers from Puerto Rico can text Hablanos to 1-787-339-2663.
¶¶¶¶Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration National Helpline (also known as the Treatment Referral Routing Service) for persons and families facing mental disorders, substance use disorders, or both:, 1–800-662-HELP, or TTY 1–800-487-4889.
*****National Suicide Prevention Lifeline ( 1-800-273-TALK for English, 1-888-628-9454 for Spanish, or Lifeline Crisis Chat (