Skip links
The mental health toll of the pandemic

OECD: The mental health toll of the pandemic

A new report published by the OECD confirms the devastating effects that the COVID‑19 crisis has had on people’s mental health globally, with unemployed and women taking the hardest hit.

The OECD explains that the pandemic has heightened the risk factors generally associated with poor mental health, such as financial insecurity, unemployment and fear, while protective factors – like social connection, employment and educational engagement, access to physical exercise, daily routine, and access to health services – fell dramatically. 

“This has led to a significant and unprecedented worsening of population mental health,” the organisation says, adding that the mental health of unemployed people and those experiencing financial insecurity was worse than that of the general population.

In some countries anxiety and depression have doubled

From March 2020 onwards, prevalence of anxiety and depression increased and in some countries even doubled, according to the report. 

For example, in Belgium, France, Italy, Mexico, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States, prevalence of anxiety in early 2020 was double or more than double the level observed in previous year. 

In Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, the Czech Republic, Mexico, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States, prevalence of depression in early 2020 was also double or more than double that observed in previous years.

According to the report, periods when the highest rates of mental distress were reported correlated with periods of intensifying COVID‑19 deaths and strict confinement measures.

Population groups with higher rates of mental distress

The report found that risk of, and resilience to, poor mental health varies across population groups, and notably by age, gender, employment status, financial situation, and socio‑economic status. 

Young people, those living alone, those with lower socio-economic status, and those who were unemployed had higher rates of mental distress. Conversely, people who were able to continue working during confinement, including those who worked remotely, were less likely to report depression and anxiety, at least during the earlier stages of the crisis.

Additionally, the lower socio-economic status’ correlation with an increased risk of poor mental health has continued during the COVID‑19 pandemic, with disadvantaged groups experiencing higher rates of mental distress. For example, in the United Kingdom, an anxiety score was measured continuously for 20 weeks from the onset of the first lockdown in March 2020; higher anxiety scores were consistently reported amongst people with lower education or lower income.

Pandemic tougher on women’s mental health

The OECD’s report also echoed other studies that have found that the pandemic has had a harsher toll on women’s mental health. “The prevalence of mental health conditions is also known to differ between men and women, with women more likely to report depression or anxiety,” the report said. 

During the COVID‑19 crisis, the existing gender differences in the prevalence of anxiety and depression have widened. Evidence from the first wave of the COVID‑19 pandemic in the United Kingdom found that mental health deteriorated more among working parents compared to those without children, with working women reporting greater declines. In the United States, the gender gap in mental health widened by 66% in the initial stages of the pandemic between March and April 2020.

OECD calls for a more integrated mental health support

According to the report, OECD countries have responded with decisive efforts to scale‑up mental health services, and put into place measures to protect jobs and incomes, thereby reducing mental distress for some. 

The report found that most countries developed new mental health information and/or phone support lines giving tips on coping measures during the COVID‑19 crisis, while many also increased entitlement to mental health services, and/or mental health funding.

Many OECD countries swiftly put in place measures to protect jobs and incomes, and aid the transition to working from home. Job retention schemes helped to support both the incomes and the mental health of workers.

However, OECD highlights that the scale of mental distress since the start of the pandemic “requires more integrated, whole‑of-society mental health support if it is not to lead to permanent scarring.”

Employers must contribute to supporting the mental health of employees, while policy makers should look further at the implications of long-term teleworking on mental health, and countries should consider scaling-up mental health support for jobseekers through public employment services, OECD says.


Moonshot News is an independent European news website for all IT, Media and Advertising professionals, powered by women and with a focus on driving the narrative for diversity, inclusion and gender equality in the industry.

Our mission is to provide top and unbiased information for all professionals and to make sure that women get their fair share of voice in the news and in the spotlight!

We produce original content, news articles, a curated calendar of industry events and a database of women IT, Media and Advertising associations.

    Do you want an experienced opinion on a job issue?
    Moonshot Manager is here to answer!

      Moonshot community sharing thoughts and ideas, in a anonymous, safe environment.