The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the prevalence of anxiety and depression by 25% globally, according to a World Health Organization report.

This is one of several reports published this spring detailing an increase in mental health challenges during the past few years.

Data analysis by WHO of a 2020 Global Burden of Disease study published by The Lancet found a 27.6% rise in cases of major depressive disorder and a 25.6% increase in cases of anxiety disorder.

The most notable rise took place during the first year of the pandemic, with people who are younger, female and with pre-existing health conditions at greatest risk.

Released in early March, the WHO report suggested multiple factors that likely contributed to the increase, including isolation, financial struggles, exhaustion, fear and grief, as well as disruptions in providing mental health services in the early days of the pandemic.

“The information we have now about the impact of COVID-19 on the world’s mental health is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. “This is a wake-up call to all countries to pay more attention to mental health and do a better job of supporting their populations’ mental health.”

A 2021 report published in late March by Sapiens Labs’ Mental Health Millions Project found that, from 2019 to 2021, there was an overall 11% decline in mental wellbeing among the eight English-speaking nations surveyed.

Across all nations surveyed, younger adults (aged 18-24) reported the most challenges, with 44% overall responding to the survey in ways that indicated they were “distressed” or “struggling” with mental health, compared to 7% of those 65 or older.

Mental health challenges were more prevalent in English-speaking than in Spanish-speaking nations, the report said, with data indicating a negative correlation between countries whose cultures emphasized performance and individualism and the mental health of its residents.

Among the English-speaking nations, the number of people determined to be distressed or struggling based on their responses to survey questions increased six percentage points to 30% from 2020 to 2021 and was up 16 percentage points since 2019.

“Thus, we are left to ponder the following,” the report’s authors noted in the introduction, “that perhaps a system that relentlessly sorts us into performers and non-performers in the singular service of economic growth is not the path to human wellbeing.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also published a report in late March, finding that 37% of high school students described their mental health status as poor in 2021, with 44% saying they “persistently felt sad or hopeless during the past year.”

According to Mental Health America’s 2022 data released in early March, nearly 20% of all U.S. adults – around 50 million — are currently struggling with mental illness, with just under 5% facing a several mental illness. This is an increase from the 19% and 47 million adults facing such challenges in 2021 and in 2020.

Utah had the highest percentage of residents with a mental illness at nearly 27%, while New Jersey had the lowest at just over 16%. Overall, 17 states were below and 34 (including the District of Columbia) were above the national average.

Editor’s note: This article is part of a series this week calling attention to May as Mental Health Awareness Month. The previous articles in the series are:

Jumping Through ‘Hoops’ for Mental Health Services Must End | Monty Self

Boundaries and Balance | Kyndra Frazier

Navigating the Dark Side of Your Thoughts and Emotions | Barry Howard

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