Cliff’s Take: Checking in on our collective mental health

Our emotional well-being took a hit at the same time that social bonds eroded.

The author(s)

  • Clifford Young President, US, Public Affairs
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The pandemic has been hard, no less so on our well-being. Humans, after all, are social creatures. We need others. Social interactions are essential; they make us whole. COVID left us at a social deficit.

What is the cumulative cost of our lost year and a half on an individual or societal level?  Not sure.  I would say the net effect is more negative or than positive.

But there are glimmers of hope.  Vaccines mean that it is safer to engage with the world again. So, with social interaction once again on the table, how are we doing as a collective, mentally and emotionally?

Below are the five most relevant polling data points of the week.

  1. Reaching equilibrium. The start of the pandemic was an emotional rollercoaster, and it took a clear toll on the country’s mental health week to week. But since then, we’ve seen things begin to equal out. Most people are at a point of stasis; a mental health “holding pattern.” Not great news; but not bad news either. Emotional and mental health


  2. A grueling year. But when we asked people to reflect back on their pandemic experience as a whole, we get a more nuanced demographic picture. Some experienced the pandemic’s effects more keenly—notably, women and Democrats. Again, the tale of two Americas; the tale of unequal experiences. Pandemic impact mental well being


  3. COVID's social cost. As I was saying at the top, COVID consumed more than a year of our lives. Think of all the celebrations and gatherings we missed. The trendline is clear. To make a policy-wonk joke, it’s not just budget deficits we have to worry about. How do we ultimately get back our social balance? Socializing pandemic


  4. Virtuous contact. The number of people social distancing – or socializing – varied throughout the past year and a half. But one constant remained. Those who were social distancing were more likely to report worsening mental health. Conversely, those who were seeing friends and family tended were also, at times, less likely than those who were not. Not causation but definitely correlation. Social activity and mental health


  5. Virtuous change. Isolation can sometimes have benefits. Being removed from the whirl of everyday life gave America the chance to reflect on their priorities. The verdict? They want more – more flexibility, more work life balance, greater opportunity to work from home. This is COVID-inspired behavioral change that will likely outlast its progenitor. We are seeing the future now. Reevaluating priorities


Social isolation is a key trigger for mental illness, such as depression or anxiety. The science shows this.  We need others around us to stay healthy and thriving.  Social milieus and the social context matters.  Our embeddedness helps keep us sane.

This is particularly true when facing an existential threat, like a once-in-100-year pandemic. It is one of the great ironies of COVID; by default, we were separated from one of the most critical remedies –  the company of others.

As always, be safe and be well.



The author(s)

  • Clifford Young President, US, Public Affairs