From April 1 to April 7, there were more than 1.7 million online mentions of mental health originating in the U.S. When we focus on those who expressed worry over the mental health of our nation (as opposed to discussing their personal state), a surge in concern is seen in early March, coinciding with the WHO’s declaration of the pandemic on March 11th and President Trump’s declaration of a national emergency on March 13th, as seen in figure 1 below. Worries continued to climb as U.S. cities began imposing restrictions, infections grew, and unemployment soared.
According to general, pre-pandemic guidelines from the CDC and the National Institute of Mental Health, one in five U.S. adults experience mental illness, and one in two is at risk of developing a mental illness. But amidst the COVID-19 pandemic more and more Americans are struggling with stress, depression and an exacerbation of existing mental illnesses. As the nation moves toward another month of physical distancing, our mental health has become more important than ever.
Through a weekly analysis of publicly available online conversations, I’ve attempted to examine the changes in the ways Americans are expressing their mental health online. While mental health discussions and feelings of depression and anxiety have surged across social media, online users across the nation have come together to support one another and share resources at such a pivotal time. In the analysis below, we’ll look at the emotional states of those posting online, and what it means for organizations across America.
Even more worrisome is the surge in U.S. users expressing feelings related to common mental illnesses, including anxiety and depression, as a result of COVID-19. As seen in figure 2 below, since the start of January, more than 87,000 social posts have included people sharing their experiences of feelings associated with mental illnesses. This includes those who say they’ve been previously diagnosed with a mental illness, as well as those who may be experiencing signs of anxiety and depression for the first time because of the pandemic. Younger generations appear to be the most impacted, with most mentions stemming from those ages 18-34, as well as from those who identify as parents. Important to note is the fact that these groups may be more active on social platforms and more willing to talk about mental health. However, even with these considerations, the numbers are striking.
The Ad Council’s latest research, “Coping with COVID-19,” found that an individual’s financial security was highly correlated to their emotional state, and in figure 3 below we can see a similar correlation between online mentions of expense worries and personal expressions of feelings associated with mental health illnesses, including feeling depressed.
As figure 4 below shows, when examining the most frequently used emojis in personal expressions of mental health struggles, faces of anguish and sadness were among the most popular, along with the prayer-hands emoji.
Thirty-six percent of mentions included a request for help or advice, but only seven percent of posts shared tips for getting through rough times. People who express feelings of mental health struggles are craving information and help during this time of uncertainty, giving organizations across the nation an opportunity to provide resources to those who need them.
Encouraging emojis were also present, in the form of hearts and smiles. As social media users shared their struggles, they were met with compassion, encouragement and support.
Fortunately, as seen in figure 5 below, more and more users are also feeling grateful. The most common reasons given included the health and well-being of family, friends and loved ones, the strength and tremendous efforts of medical workers, and the ability to self-quarantine without struggling. Survey data from the Ad Council’s research report reinforces this finding, with 53% of respondents feeling grateful—the highest-ranking feeling within the answer set.