The high costs of COVID-19 are evident in lost jobs, dramatic falls in GDP growth, compromised schooling, shuttered restaurants, and much more. Some of these losses will be recovered over time, some will not. The human costs of the pandemic—above and beyond the gruesome death toll—are much more difficult to assess.

Our analyses suggest that the emotional costs of the pandemic are much higher for the poor and vulnerable than they are for the rich, heightening deep pre-existing inequities in well-being in the U.S and many other countries.[1] Before COVID-19, our data discovered remarkable progress paradoxes in rapidly growing middle-income countries.[2] In the late 1990s in China, life satisfaction fell more than 20 percent and mental health reports and suicides increased sharply at the height of their rapid growth, due to increases in inequality and uncertainty associated with change, as well as increasing gaps between the winners and losers in the process. In the past decade in India—in which both growth and poverty reduction have been exceptionally high—both life satisfaction and reported optimism fell over 10 percent, for similar reasons.

In the U.S., pre-COVID-19, when stock markets were booming and the official unemployment was at record lows, deaths of despair—due to opioids and suicides—took over 1 million lives in just over a decade. These were concentrated among less than college educated middle aged whites—a privileged group when manufacturing jobs were plentiful, but then experienced declines in income and social cohesion as those jobs disappeared. Pockets of deep vulnerability—and ill-being—persisted and even deepened in the decade of steady growth following the financial crisis.

Since COVID-19, these trends and other pre-existing inequities have been exacerbated and are reflected in deep declines in reported well-being.[3] A survey in March highlights the differences in the costs to well-being across the rich and poor.[4] Low-income respondents significantly reported more negative emotions than did high income ones, including more worry, sadness, loneliness, and anger.

Read the full article about mental health costs of COVID-19 by Carol Graham at Brookings.