Survey on Pandemic's Effects Reveal Mixed Emotions for Diverse Groups

August 4, 2020

Many are anxious or down but finding silver linings amidst challenges; essential workers and boomers are faring better than most.

A survey of 2,108 Woebot digital therapy users reveals some of the groups most affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. Data shares essential workers and older populations are faring better than others, while those 25 and younger report more sadness and anxiety than any age group. However, there is a flip side to the pandemic story: many respondents also say the situation has helped them identify personal strengths, increase their appreciation of life, and strengthen their interpersonal relationships or spiritual connections.

“In a world where we’re hit each day with such bad news about Covid-19—its transmission, its growing numbers, its mutations—it’s wonderful to see that we can admit pain, but also simultaneously find and even cultivate hope,” says Athena Robinson, Ph.D., Woebot Health's chief clinical officer and adjunct clinical associate professor at Stanford University. “I’m humbled by what we’re seeing in the lived experiences of our users: the human capacity to navigate tough experiences and find meaning in persistently difficult and uncertain times.”

The Mixed State of Mind

Most respondents report high stress and anxiety levels. Specifically, almost three quarters (71%) have found that changes in their way of life given the pandemic are moderately, very, or extremely stressful while more than half (58%) said they are bothered by being nervous, anxious or “on edge” more than half of days or nearly every day. Moreover, 42% indicate their mental health has worsened “very much” or “extremely.”

But there are also positive personal outcomes for Woebot users, who are using chat-based digital therapy as the pandemic spreads worldwide. The majority of respondents (69%) say the pandemic has created new possibilities and strengthened their relationships with others or community (70%). Nearly 80% say it has helped them increase their appreciation of life. The pandemic has also helped nearly three quarters (73%) of respondents identify personal strengths, and for more than half (59%), it has created spiritual change.

Essential Workers Faring Better Than Most

One in five survey respondents classify themselves as essential workers and report similar levels of pandemic impact (i.e., stress due to lifestyle changes, feelings, and changes in mental health), as other respondents, though they appear to be faring better in several ways. Fewer essential workers report being bothered by feeling down, depressed, or hopeless nearly every day (essential workers: 19%; all other respondents: 27%). Essential workers also report a lower rate of extreme anxiety, with 22% saying they have been bothered by not being able to stop or control worrying nearly every day, compared to 27% for all other respondents.

“The difference could be because these people are among the most engaged in work for their communities and helping others in need,” Robinson says.

Millennials and Gen-Z More Anxious Than Boomers

A mix of Millennials and Gen-Z (overall ages 17-25) report the highest levels of anxiety and low mood, and their responses contrast most significantly with Boomers who are 65 or more. About 62% of the younger group is bothered by feeling nervous, anxious, or on edge more than half the days or nearly every day, more than three times the rate of older respondents (20%). More than half (56%) of younger respondents also report not being able to stop or control worrying more than half the time or nearly every day, nearly twice that of older respondents (30%).

As for low mood, more than one-third of younger respondents (35%) have been bothered by little interest or pleasure in doing things nearly every day, triple the rate for the older group (10%), and 59% of younger users say they have felt bothered by feeling down, depressed or hopeless more than half the days or nearly every day, double the number for the older group (30%).

“These differences may be because it’s relatively less disruptive for older, potentially retired, people to stay at home, while younger respondents face significant life adjustments and likely fewer job options,” Robinson says. “We must continue to decrease the stigma surrounding mental illness and create a safe environment for people to seek help, whether with a psychiatrist, psychologist, and/or digital therapy."

The initial survey is part of a series of Woebot Health surveys that will review the immediate and longer-term effects of Covid-19 on mental health. The snapshot is being released six months after Woebot users first mentioned the coronavirus, around the same time that the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Covid-19 a pandemic.