How consumers’ habits and needs have changed during the pandemic
While the world was vastly unprepared for the Covid-19 pandemic in many ways, one way in which it had been luckily preparing was in its growing attention toward and de-stigmatization of mental health. As Google Trends reveals, the interest in mental health worldwide has steadily been growing over the past five years. This is reflected in our recent research speaking to people across four continents as part of our ongoing exploration of post-pandemic life; mental health is regularly one of the first things they mention when asked what’s important in their lives, and it’s often one of the life changes they’ve made that they intend to continue. October 10th marks World Mental Health Day, and we want to share some of the highlights of how perceptions of mental health and the factors impacting it have evolved over the past 20 months.
Early, Often + Online
For many, it was fortunate that there had been a growing openness about mental health prior to the pandemic. It meant that more people were aware of mental health issues and less afraid to reach out when they needed help. Many of the people we interviewed—especially the Gen Z respondents—discuss mental health with their friends and regularly check in with each other to make sure everyone is doing okay. While most paid attention to their mental health even before the pandemic, for some it was the first time they had to address their own challenges in this area. They openly shared having noticed signs of loneliness, depression, and feeling helpless, and that maintaining their mental health quickly became part of their everyday lives. They readily embrace digital resources and tools, ranging from Google searches to virtual therapy sessions. While going digital may have been out of necessity during lockdowns, the trend looks to be a lasting shift in their mental health habits.
“I learned to focus on my mental health. When I have depression, I search online to read about things that will help me to improve my situation. I never got that kind of depression before the pandemic, feeling useless, feeling helpless. It’s still affecting me, I’m still working on it.” – Maria, 28, Saudi Arabia
“I used to deal with depression. I’ve learned different tactics to be able to help with it, but not being able to go to a therapist, or speak to them was hard. Eventually I could FaceTime with my therapist, which helped.” – Shamar, 32, US
The pandemic has further raised awareness about mental health, but it has also created a plethora of new challenges which younger people in particular are struggling to handle. Already the loneliest generations, young people are struggling with isolation even after lockdowns have ended. They have also faced plenty of uncertainty about the future coming of age during the great recession, and their sense of anxiety is rising even as the world attempts to regain its sense of normalcy.
Fewer Friends, More Alone Time
Social groups are getting smaller, with several young people sharing that they have lost touch with some friends during lockdown and are focused more on their “core group.” Their friend groups will likely stay small as young people also note that they keep new acquaintances at a distance, especially at first, and it takes longer to develop a sense of trust with new people. Even in the case of dating, young people from Germany, France, and the U.S. said they’re increasingly meeting romantic interests through friends (or friends of friends) and prefer it that way.
“I lost touch with some of my bros, but that’s okay, I don’t miss them. I still have my close friends, that what’s important.” – Nelson, 27, France
Young people are also going out less and have less interest in meeting new people—many scaled back because they worried about what they may pick up and pass on to family, but it led them to realize they found less value in nights out at a bar than in a night in with their best friends, which suggests this is a trend that will continue in post-pandemic life. In addition, most young people are spending more time alone, focused on self-reflection. They’re not sad about having smaller friend groups or spending more time alone; perhaps counterintuitively, it gives them a sense of comfort and security.
An Anxiety Epidemic
Younger generations are no strangers to collective trauma—from global economic crises to school shootings and acid attacks to now a pandemic—and this has shaped them and their mental health in many ways. While they are gradually becoming less fearful of the immediate health impacts of the pandemic, it has elevated their sense of anxiety overall. Several younger people told us that feel anxious in crowded spaces or that their friends have had anxiety attacks. They’ve been triggered by seeing people panic-buying supplies. Unlike fear driven by a moment in time, the fears and anxieties raised by the pandemic have dragged on, solidifying the impact it will have on young people.
Their sense of anxiety and uncertainty is driven by seeing how quickly things can change. On a personal level, they worry their school may close or that they might lose their job. On a larger scale, most young people acknowledged a significant fear around climate change. They try to do what they can to help, from washing their hands often to only buying second-hand items, but they still feel powerless and anxious.
“I’ve been stressed—stressed there will be another shutdown, stressed with school possibly shutting down.” – Hayley, 22, US
“One of my friends had an anxiety attack. She was in Barcelona waiting for a nightclub, and there were so many people there, she started crying. Never before had this happened to her, but she was super stressed being surrounded by all these people.” – Perrine, 21, France
A Look Forward
Mental health will continue to be a core focus for people, younger and older, in the future. They are more aware of their mental health than ever before, and more people are taking steps and using strategies to address their personal needs on an ongoing basis. However, the specific challenges people face around mental health are evolving, and so, too, should the ways that organizations and brands communicate and engage their audiences around these issues. This is not only true in terms of the issues they reflect but also in how they do so.
When companies like Nike and Bumble close for a week to give employees a mental health break, it not only gives immediate relief to workers but also sets the tone in culture. It signals a shift in the way brands demonstrate their understanding and respect for mental health needs by showing they want to get ahead of such issues and address them as early as possible. In this way, brands can not only provide support but also become role models for consumers when it comes to considering their own mental health. Every brand can have an impact by putting a continual focus on maintaining mental health, as consumers do.