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The coronavirus outbreak has so far led to more than 28,000 deaths in the US, but the reach of such an unprecedented crisis extends far beyond the devastating physical damage of the disease.
Across the country, people are anxious about their finances, uncertain about the future, grieving over the loss of loved ones, fearful about their own health, and feeling lonely and isolated in statewide lockdowns during the pandemic.
Crisis Text Line, a service that provides free, 24/7 mental health support through text messages, has seen a 40% increase in the volume of texts sent by people seeking help over the past three weeks in the US.
The majority of coronavirus-related texts (80%) came from people feeling lonely and isolated, Miranda Pollard, a data scientist at Crisis Text Line, told BuzzFeed News. About 74% of people said they were distressed because of uncertainty about the future, while 67% experienced distress over their loss of routine due to the pandemic. About 47% of people who texted also reported feeling financial distress related to the pandemic.
People were 44% more likely to be more fearful about their loved ones contracting the virus compared to themselves becoming infected with it, Pollard said.
Pollard said counselors at Crisis Text Line are expecting a second wave of mental health issues stemming from the downstream effects of COVID-19, including self-isolation and containment, job loss, and fears about an impending recession.
Crisis Text Line provided BuzzFeed News with several text messages they received from people across the country seeking counseling and comfort during the pandemic. (Some of the messages were paraphrased to protect the privacy of the texters.)
These text messages from paramedics, nurses, cashiers, unemployed workers, domestic violence victims, and grieving family members illustrate the nation’s collective anxiety, fear, and uncertainty during the pandemic.
I’ve been a paramedic for a long time. Because of my job I’m very in tune with the virus situation, but I feel like it’s hurting me too. I felt a panic attack coming or at least anxiety symptoms and I needed to talk to someone. (Indiana)
I’m an essential cashier at my job and since this Covid-19 broke out, I have been feeling very overwhelmed and emotionally unstable. (California)
I’m just having a really hard time. Feeling terrified I’m gonna get sick and bring it home to my family. I work full time at a grocery store right now. (California)
I work as an emergency room nurse… but there is a lot of uncertainty at work now. The hospital I work for is cutting staff and cutting hours. Everybody is on edge. (Arizona)
At least 84% of people who texted and identified as essential workers in food, retail, health care, or construction reported experiencing coronavirus-related stress and anxiety, according to Crisis Text Line.
Almost half of them (45%) expressed fears about contracting the virus as a major source of distress compared to 37% from other people who texted. More than half (56%) of the essential workers also mentioned financial issues as a major source of distress compared to 44% of others.
“Precaution,” “gloves,” “risk,” and “careful” were some of the top words used in texts sent by essential workers.
My family has lost my uncle and aunt to the virus, my spouse is also very ill, and I just feel like there’s no reason to keep going (Ohio)
Someone I really loved died yesterday from Covid. (New York)
My close friend was not feeling well this past week. She had Covid 19 symptoms. She died suddenly last night. (Louisiana)
Conversations about grief have increased to 4% of the daily volume of messages received by the hotline, Pollard said, and it’s continuing to increase.
“Grandma” and “grandpa” are among the most used words in texts related to grief, she said.
I’ve worked so hard for the past 2 years and now i feel like everything is going to be taken away. I have so much debt and i’m losing so much income bc of the virus (Texas)
My supervisor said she might be cutting hours due to the virus. I’m already laid off from a different job. (North Carolina)
We are struggling to make our rent payment – our landlord gave us a discount but it isn’t enough to make a difference. I’m not sure if we will be able to make ends meet. (Colorado)
With 22 million Americans filing for unemployment, many people who texted said they felt distressed about financial issues related to the coronavirus pandemic, including reduced work hours, less job income, increased food and medical expenses, and reduced savings or investments.
“Job,” “furloughed,” “landlord,” “income,” “unemployed,” and “laid off” were among the most frequently used words, Pollard said.
Some people said that while they didn’t work, they were dependent on parents or partners who had lost their jobs and were struggling financially due to the coronavirus.
Isolation/quarantine and loneliness
Being quarantined is triggering my depression. I live in a household where I don’t feel loved. (Florida)
Isolation is getting to me. (Texas)
I’m having trouble coping with my anxiety while practicing social distance and quarantine and not being able to do much (Texas)
Some 94% of messages sent to Crisis Text Line were from people who said their communities were in lockdown. The word “quarantine” was directly mentioned in at least 8% of conversations, Pollard said.
Mentions of sexual assault and emotional abuse were 25% higher in conversations where people mentioned “quarantine” and eating disorders or body image issues were 45% higher.
Many people expressed their anxiety over a lack of self-care and routines during isolation. The pandemic has also meant a loss of support networks for many people who were spending less time with friends, leading to feelings of depression and hopelessness. Younger people also expressed disruption in their sleeping routines.
Abuse and violence
I feel trapped almost like there is nowhere for me to go if he got violent and I don’t want to risk exposing my kids to the virus. How can I prepare myself during this crisis should he become violent? (Texas)
I feel emotionally abused at home. Quarantine has made it worse. The person I live with is very controlling. (Arizona)
I’m quarantined with an emotionally and mentally abusive person and I just don’t know how to deal with it anymore. (California)
In a survey of people who texted, 28% of people said yes when asked if “fear or experience of harm (verbal, physical, or emotional) from people in your home [is] a current source of distress for you?”
During April, conversations mentioning the words “hit,” “violence,” or “abuse” increased by 14% compared to February, according to Crisis Text Line.
Pollard said counselors were anticipating an increase in domestic violence and abuse owing to people being locked down at home in unsafe situations.
Age and health concerns
I’m having extremely high anxiety. I keep thinking I have the virus. I can’t get it out of my head. I’ve had cold symptoms and I’m worried. (North Carolina)
Covid is making me lose it. I’m scared to leave the house. I’m high risk because I’m sick and I feel like I’m losing my mind. (Minnesota)
Crisis Text Line saw its largest spike in people who texted between the ages of 35 to 44 years, most of whom (88%) reported experiencing stress and anxiety related to the coronavirus. In this age group, there was “significantly more clinical-level anxiety and depression compared to other age groups,” Pollard said.
At least 59% of people in this age group mentioned their fears of contracting the virus as a major source of distress compared to 39% of other texters.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. Other international suicide helplines can be found at befrienders.org. You can also text TALK to 741741 for free, anonymous 24/7 crisis support in the US from the Crisis Text Line.