Mental Health During Coronavirus: Americans Unhappiest They've Been in 50 years

Happiness and optimism reaches a decades-long low


New data suggests that the coronavirus pandemic has negatively impacted the well-being of Americans more than most other past national tragedies. In fact, a new COVID Response Tracking Study conducted by social research organization NORC at the University of Chicago found that people are the unhappiest they’ve been in 50 years.

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The new poll takes a look at Americans' beliefs and mental health surrounding the coronavirus outbreak. The study was conducted online and over the phone in English and Spanish with 2,000 respondents, and findings were compared to decades of data from the General Social Survey. 

In the first wave of questions conducted in late May, an all-time low 14% of American adults said they were very happy, dropping 17 percentage points from 2018. Meanwhile, the percentage of people who described themselves as not too happy — 23% — spiked to an all-time high since the question was first asked in 1972.

According to the authors of the study, the findings suggest that people are comparing their happiness to their own psychological well-being before the pandemic.

The results also show how Americans are reacting differently to the coronavirus pandemic compared to national tragedies in the past. For example, fewer Americans report crying or feeling dazed than after either the Kennedy assassination in 1963 or the 9/11 attacks in 2001, but more people have lost their temper during the pandemic.

Americans are also experiencing more feelings of anxiety and depression than before, as 18% of people say they’ve felt anxious, depressed or irritable in the past seven days when the poll was taken compared to 13% in 2018.


The next sets of data will be collected over the coming months, and the authors hope to reveal how Americans’ responses to the coronavirus may be evolving as time goes on and as people find the best ways to deal with everyday stress