Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

Social Life

How’s Our Mental Health in the Wake of COVID? Not So Good!

A worldwide survey shows our post-COVID mental health is a bit stuck.

Key points

  • In its fourth year running, the Global Mind Project surveys well-being across the globe.
  • Its most recent findings show well-being has more or less stagnated since the pandemic.
  • Several "pain points" offer areas to work on, both as societies and as individuals.
Gerd Altmann/Pixabay
Source: Gerd Altmann/Pixabay

When the pandemic began, I feared illness and death. I also worried about a second pandemic, at least as pervasive, that would stay with us long after we vanquished COVID: a bitter, slogging, mental health pandemic in the coronavirus’s wake.

Last month, The Global Mind Project, now in its fourth year and billing itself as the planet’s “largest database on mental wellbeing,” came out with its 2023 report. Its findings are dark-ish—but there’s light and hope, too.

The Project surveyed over 500,000 “internet-enabled” participants (in 71 countries, speaking 13 languages) about mental well-being. “Well-being” doesn’t mean “happiness” per se, or even “life satisfaction” but instead, the ability to handle stresses and strains of life while contributing to society productively. The well-validated survey (dubbed the MHQ, for Mental Health Quotient) looks at inner states and how they affect our ability to function. The survey is divided into six dimensions: mood/outlook, social self, drive/motivation, adaptability/resilience, and mind-body connection—all concepts known to contribute to (or detract from) individual well-being.

So what does the 2023 survey show? More than a quarter of global MHQ responders fell into the lowest “Distressed” or “Struggling” categories, and just over a third in the higher “Succeeding” or “Thriving” ranges. These numbers stayed relatively flat for the last two years, since the height of the pandemic in 2021. Youth, who used to rate highest on mood surveys, showed the greatest decrease in MHQ scores, especially in English-speaking countries. And countries across the globe scored lowest on Mood and Outlook and Social Self dimensions of the MHQ. It appears that we humans, everywhere, are suffering most in these areas.

What three big takeaways did Global Mind Project researchers stress?

  1. The younger a child is when they acquire their first smartphone, the lower their well-being ratings.
  2. The more processed food a person (of any age) eats, the lower their well-being ratings.
  3. Finally, the weaker a person’s social bonds are, the lower their well-being.

How is this hopeful? In so many ways, actually. It supports what many people already believe—that excessive screen use is bad, especially for children and youth, and more so with inappropriately used social media. It confirms that ultra-processed foods are not good for anybody, especially in excess. Validating these ideas once more could help move the needle toward better societal policies and individual behaviors, so we can feel better across the board.

And the piece about our social bonds? This reinforces what we are learning too. Loneliness is thought to be at epidemic levels and can be deadly, especially in the United States. Fraying social connections are fallout from fractured societies built on individualism vs. groups; independence vs. collaboration; and “us” vs. “them” (we are all “us”!). If we continue an “every man/woman is an island” path, it’s at our great peril.

Yet knowledge is power—we can mobilize strategies to improve social connection and combat loneliness, in ourselves and our communities; to turn toward safe and supportive social nets on both individual and societal levels.

The Global Mind Project is not perfect. It only surveys those with access to and agility with the internet, which favors more distressed, English-speaking countries. Countries with fewer internet-enabled citizens tend to enjoy greater family and social bonds and might have shifted the global data toward improved well-being. The Project virtually excludes Scandinavia, which reports higher-than-average happiness rates. The Project’s findings connect ultra-processed food with lower well-being but don’t dig down into underlying social determinants of health (e.g. food deserts, lack of money, time, resources to cook, etc.) that may contribute more to lower well-being than Twinkies themselves.

But as a start, a broad brush of areas wherein we’re hurting—and therefore can begin to heal—The Global Mind Project can be seen as an empowering marker, a pointer to pave our journey toward improved wellbeing.

Here’s to all of our health—and “well-est” well-being.


More from Diane N Solomon Ph.D., PMHNP-BC, CNM (Ret.)
More from Psychology Today