Experts Fear Ongoing Mental Health Crisis If COVID-19 Keeps Us Home This Winter

Coronavirus and mental health tips

Experts Fear Ongoing Mental Health Crisis If COVID-19 Keeps Us Home This Winter

Page last reviewed: 12 January 2021

The Mental Health Foundation is part of the national mental health response during the coronavirus outbreak. Government advice designed to keep us safe is under constant review and will be different depending on where you live: more details and up to date information here.

Infectious disease outbreaks, the current coronavirus (COVID-19), can be scary and can affect our mental health. While it is important to stay informed, there are also many things we can do to support and manage our wellbeing during such times. 

Here are some tips we hope will help you, your friends and your family to look after your mental health at a time when there is much discussion of potential threats to our physical health. 

Looking after your mental health while you have to stay at home 

More of us will be spending a lot of time at home and many of our regular social activities will no longer be available to us. 

It will help to try and see it as a different period in your life, and not necessarily a bad one, even if you didn’t choose it. 

It will mean a different rhythm of life, a chance to be in touch with others in different ways than usual. Be in touch with other people regularly on social media, e-mail or on the phone, as they are still good ways of being close to the people who matter to you.  

Create a new daily routine that prioritises looking after yourself. You could try reading more or watching movies, having an exercise routine, trying new relaxation techniques, or finding new knowledge on the internet. Try and rest and view this as a new if unusual experience, that might have its benefits.     

Make sure your wider health needs are being looked after such as having enough prescription medicines available to you.

Read our full list of tips on staying at home. 

Try to avoid speculation and look up reputable sources on the outbreak 

Rumour and speculation can fuel anxiety. Having access to good quality information about the virus can help you feel more in control. 

Follow hygiene advice such as washing your hands more often than usual, for 20 seconds with soap and hot water (sing ‘happy birthday’ to yourself twice to make sure you do this for 20 seconds).

You should do this whenever you get home or into work, blow your nose, sneeze or cough, eat or handle food.

If you can’t wash your hands straightaway, use hand sanitiser and then wash them at the next opportunity. 

You should also use tissues if you sneeze and make sure you dispose of them quickly; and stay at home if you are feeling unwell. 

Make a personal financial plan

If the pandemic has stretched your expenses, reduced your income or left you unsure about your job prospects, this uncertainty can take a toll on your mental health. 

Plan your finances this winter , including making sure you are getting any benefits you are entitled to and getting help with any debt concerns you may have. With different restrictions in place, using a budget tool to redo your household budget for being at home could be useful. Remember that you may be saving money by not spending on things transport and socialising. Factor that in when looking at your budget. Trying to stay in a stable financial or debt position is incredibly protective to our wellbeing. Help and advice is available.

Try to stay connected

The way we are able to connect to others is changing, but this is happening at a different pace depending on who you are and where you live. Advice is significantly different if you are shielding, and you still need to take extra care if you have a long-term physical health condition, are pregnant or aged over 70.  

There is a summary of how you can connect here 

  • keep active 
  • eat a balanced diet 

Stay in touch with friends on social media but try not to sensationalise things. If you are sharing content, use this from trusted sources, and remember that your friends might be worried too. 

Also remember to regularly assess your social media activity. Tune in with yourself and ask if they need to be adjusted. Are there particular accounts or people that are increasing your worry or anxiety? Consider muting or unfollowing accounts or hashtags that cause you to feel anxious. 

Talk to your children 

Involving our family and children in our plans for good health is essential. We need be alert to and ask children what they have heard about the outbreak and support them, without causing them alarm. 

We need to minimise the negative impact it has on our children and explain the facts to them. Discuss the news with them but try and avoid over-exposure to coverage of the virus. Be as truthful as possible. 

Try to anticipate distress 

It is OK to feel vulnerable and overwhelmed as we read news about the outbreak, especially if you have experienced trauma or a mental health problem in the past, or if you are shielding, have a long-term physical health condition or fall into one of the other groups  that makes you more vulnerable to the effects of the coronavirus. 

It’s important to acknowledge these feelings and remind each other to look after our physical and mental health. We should also be aware of and avoid increasing habits that may not be helpful in the long term, smoking, drinking and overeating. 

Try and reassure people you know who may be worried and check in with people who you know are living alone. 

Try not to make assumptions 

Don’t judge people and avoid jumping to conclusions about who is responsible for the spread of the disease. The coronavirus can affect anyone, regardless of gender, ethnicity or sex. 

Try to manage how you follow the outbreak in the media  

There is extensive news coverage about the outbreak. If you find that the news is causing you huge stress, it’s important to find a balance. 

It’s best that you don’t avoid all news and that you keep informing and educating yourself, but limit your news intake if it is bothering you.  

Looking after your mental health as lockdown eases 

Across the nations of the UK, lockdown is easing in different ways and at different times. As we begin to come lockdown many of us are faced with both challenges and opportunities. 

Within social distancing guidelines, we may be able to see friends and family in person, play sport or return to work.  

However, many of us may find even these longed-for changes difficult for our mental health. The idea of coming lockdown when the scientific debate is ongoing may also be worrying for those of us who are more at risk from the virus or living with mental health problems.  

More useful resources: 

The Mental Health Foundation is committed to bringing readers reliable and relevant information. All of our pages are written and regularly reviewed by our mental health experts, in line with official advice on the coronavirus outbreak.

We need your support to keep providing vital information during this time.

Please consider making a donation today

Public Health England have developed explicit guidance on mental health in the crisis. If you want to develop a personalised plan for supporting your mental health you can also visit the PHE Every Mind Matters site, developed in collaboration with the Mental Health Foundation.

If you need to talk confidentially you can call Samaritans on 116 123 at any time. We also have a resource on how to get help for your mental health.


Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Experts Fear Ongoing Mental Health Crisis If COVID-19 Keeps Us Home This Winter

Back to School During COVID-19

Training and Technical Assistance Related to COVID-19

Disaster Distress Helpline
People feeling emotional distress related to COVID-19 can contact this helpline for support.


Learn more about SAMHSA’s COVID-19 funded grants.

For behavioral health providers:

Leveraging Existing Health and Disease Management Programs to Provide Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Resources During the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency (PHE) (PDF | 73 KB)

This document issued by CMS and SAMHSA provides information regarding expanding coverage for mental health and substance use disorder services delivered through telehealth platforms, telephone, and similar mechanisms to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 public health emergency.

Guidance for Law Enforcement and First Responders Administering Naloxone (PDF | 117 KB)

The document discusses the importance of Naloxone and a series of recommendations are provided to promote first responder safety during COVID-19.

Letter to Treatment Providers on PPE (PDF | 543 KB)

This letter serves as confirmation from SAMHSA that the ordering of personal protective equipment, such as masks and gloves, by providers of mental and substance use disorder treatment services is for a legitimate need and purpose.

COVID-19 Public Health Emergency Response and 42 CFR Part 2 Guidance (PDF | 168 KB)

In response to COVID-19, SAMHSA provided this guidance to ensure that substance use disorder treatment services are uninterrupted during this public health emergency.

For facilities:

Considerations for the Care and Treatment of Mental and Substance Use Disorders in the COVID-19 Epidemic (PDF | 125 KB)

This document offers guidance to facilities, recommending that non-urgent visits be rescheduled, while also recommending that providers perform regular checks on patients at higher severity mental illness or substance use disorder.

Considerations for Crisis Centers and Clinicians in Managing the Treatment of Alcohol or Benzodiazepine Withdrawal during the COVID-19 Epidemic: March 19, 2020 (PDF | 213 KB)

Crisis centers that are able to remain operational and dispense medications to be administered unsupervised are asked to consider this guidance to minimize the potential for overdose and/or diversion.

Managing Healthcare Operations During COVID-19

Planning for community spread of COVID-19 is critical for maintaining healthcare services during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Get tips on how to stay prepared and how to operate effectively.

COVID-19: Interim Considerations for State Psychiatric Hospitals (PDF | 210 KB)

This document provides information regarding how to keep both patients and healthcare staff during COVID-19. Specific recommendations address how to reduce morbidity and mortality.

For employers:

Telework and DFWP Drug Testing During COVID-19

The DFWP highly recommends that agencies consult with their Office of Human Resources, Office of General Counsel and other appropriate offices prior to making telework related drug testing collection and testing decisions.

For general public:

Virtual Recovery Resources (PDF | 98 KB)

This tip sheet describes resources that can be used to virtually support recovery from mental/substance use disorders. It also provides resources to help local recovery programs create virtual meetings.

Double Jeopardy: COVID-19 and Behavioral Health Disparities for Black and Latino Communities in the U.S. (PDF | 427 KB)

This report highlights the health disparities that have been exacerbated as a result of COVID-19. In addition, recommendations are provided regarding what communities can do.

Intimate Partner Violence and Child Abuse Considerations During COVID-19 (PDF | 328 KB)

This brief discusses how COVID-19 may create safety concerns for victims of IPV during quarantine. In addition, several SAMHSA and non-SAMHSA resources are available.

Additional Federal Guidance

CMS: COVID -19 Considerations for Psychiatric Facilities and Immediate Care Facilities (PDF | 262 KB)

DEA SAMHSA Buprenorphine Telemedicine (PDF | 209 KB)

OCR Announces Notification of Enforcement Discretion for Telehealth Remote Communications During the COVID-19 Nationwide Public Health Emergency

The Notification of Enforcement Discretion on Telehealth Remote Communications

DEA Information on Telemedicine (PDF | 75 KB)

DEA Diversion Control Division COVID-19 Information

Synar letter to the State Authority for Mental and Substance Use Disorders (PDF | 389 KB)

Stay up to Date


Children’s Mental Health Is a National Emergency, Pediatricians

Experts Fear Ongoing Mental Health Crisis If COVID-19 Keeps Us Home This Winter

The kids are not okay. In fact, the mental health crisis among American youths has become so acute during the COVID-19 pandemic that a coalition of pediatric health experts has declared it a national emergency.

In a joint statement released in October 2021, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the Children’s Hospital Association — groups that represent more than 70,000 doctors nationwide — highlighted the serious toll that isolation, ongoing uncertainty, fear, and grief have taken on U.S. children and teens.

“The mental health of children and teens is at a critical tipping point,” says Lee Savio Beers, MD, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics and medical director for community health and advocacy at Children’s National Hospital in Washington, DC. “Child mental health issues were of great concern before the pandemic, and COVID-19 has only exacerbated them.”

When It Comes to Emotional Well-Being Among Kids, the Numbers Are Grim

Between March and October 2020, the percentage of emergency department visits for children with mental health emergencies rose by 24 percent for children 5 to 11 years old and by 31 percent for children and teens 12 to 17 years old, according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (which are highlighted in the joint statement).

Early in 2021, there was a more than 50 percent surge in emergency department visits for suspected suicide attempts among girls 12 to 17 years old, according to a separate CDC report (which is also cited in the joint statement). Suspected suicide attempts climbed in boys, too, but by a less dramatic 3.7 percent.

And as of June 2021, more than 140,000 children had lost a caregiver to COVID-19, according to a study published in October 2021 in Pediatrics. These losses hit communities of color particularly hard — these youth were up to 4.5 times more ly to lose a parent or grandparent caregiver to COVID-19 than white children and teens, according to the data.

“The inequities that result from structural racism increase the vulnerability to emergency situations, as evidenced by the disproportionate impacts of COVID-19 on communities of color,” Dr. Beers says.

RELATED: The Lasting Impact of COVID-19: How Will It Affect Our Mental Health?

Adolescent Mental Health Was a Problem Before COVID-19

Even before the pandemic, nearly 1 in 5 children had a diagnosed mental illness, and only 20 percent of these patients received care from a mental health specialist, according to the CDC.

Longstanding obstacles to treatment include stigma that may prevent parents from seeking help for their kids, long waiting lists for care, lack of insurance coverage, or a lack of access to providers who take insurance or charge affordable rates, the CDC notes.

The pandemic has highlighted and exacerbated many of these issues, says Rebecca Dudovitz, MD, an associate professor of pediatrics at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California in Los Angeles, who was not involved in the new joint statement but researches how school environments influence children’s health.

“It has been a very stressful year and a half. And at the same time that stress was increasing, children lost a lot of the supports that help them cope with stress in healthy ways,” Dr. Dudovitz says. “That includes exercising, having routines, and connecting to people who can offer support.”

With schools closed, after-school activities and sports canceled, and typical family routines upended, young people lost access to many of the things that kept them feeling secure before the pandemic, as well as activities that helped them cope with stress and anxiety, Dudovitz says.

“Although we’ve known for a long time that our mental healthcare system lacked the capacity to serve everyone who needed help, now that so many more children are experiencing mental health problems, it’s just impossible to ignore,” Dudovitz says.

Schools reopening didn’t necessarily make things better, especially for teens, says Benjamin Shain, MD, PhD, who is head of child and adolescent psychiatry at NorthShore University HealthSystem in Chicago and has previously helped draft suicide screening guidelines for the American Academy of Pediatrics (though he was not involved in drafting this recent statement).

“In my own practice, there has been a surge of adolescents at risk of suicide just in the past month, which seems to be related to the start of school,” Dr. Shain says.

For some teens already struggling with their mental health, returning to crowded schools after a year in isolation compounded their stress, Shain says.

RELATED: Depression, Anxiety, Burnout on the Rise Among College Students Returning to Campus

What Pediatricians Want to See Happen

Several things might help improve access to mental health care and reduce the risk of acute psychiatric illness among children and teens, the coalition of pediatric health experts noted in the joint statement.

Telemedicine visits, which have become more common during the pandemic, might be one way to expand access to screening and treatment of mental health problems among young people, these experts argue.

RELATED: Expansion of Telemedicine Reveals Disparities in Who Has Access to Remote Care

School-based programs focused on suicide prevention and mental health screening and treatment could also help.

“There is good evidence that school-based screening and school mental health programs can help identify and treat mental health problems, but we need significant investments to expand them,” says Dudovitz. The joint statement calls for increased funding for school-based mental health care.

“Schools can also help children develop those healthy coping skills and there are great examples of evidence-based programs that help children build resilience and mindfulness skills,” Dudovitz adds.

Keeping kids in school and training teachers and staff to recognize and respond to trauma in ways that don’t make students feel worse may also help address the pediatric mental health crisis, says Angelica Robles, MD, a developmental-behavioral pediatrician at Novant Health in Charlotte, North Carolina, who treats children with a wide range of disabilities and researches how adverse experiences impact kids’ mental health. Dr. Robles, wasn’t involved in drafting the new statement.

Trauma-informed teaching, which recognizes the ways trauma can impact behavior and academic performance, can help, along with support for parents and families to reduce stressors at home.

California is one state that is ahead of the curve on these efforts, Robles says. The state has set an ambitious goal to halve children’s exposure to adverse childhood experiences and toxic stress within one generation.

This means preventing a wide range of stressors such as physical, emotional, and sexual abuse; parental incarceration; mental illness; substance misuse; and domestic violence, according to a fact sheet on the initiative from the Office of the California Surgeon General.

“The national emergency is pushing these issues to the forefront in order to raise awareness and hopefully, build further mental health services and supports for children,” Robles says.

The joint statement also calls for:

  • Integration of sustainable mental health care models in primary pediatric care, including models for payment
  • Strengthened suicide prevention efforts in schools and community settings
  • Addressing the workforce challenges in child mental health care
  • Advancing policies that ensure compliance with and enforcement of mental health parity laws

RELATED: Under Pressure: How Social Media, Drugs, and the Changing Landscape of Sexuality Are Challenging Younger Generations’ Mental Health


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