Home Alone: The Mental Health Impact of Working from Home

Fast Focus

The coronavirus pandemic has significantly increased the population of people who work from home. While this population experiences reduced risks of viral transmission, extended isolation and unique stressors could contribute to mental health concerns.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world forever. Nearly every task imaginable has required safety reconsiderations – grocery shopping, exercising, visiting friends and family, traveling, and of course, working.

Many employers have adjusted to the pandemic by allowing their workforce to work from home (WFH) to mitigate viral transmission and protect employees. However, extensive isolation and other factors, some general and some unique to WFH employees, have created cause for concern surrounding mental health.

How Big is the
Work from Home

What Stressors Do Remote Workers Face?

There are a wide range of stressors stemming from this pandemic that impact virtually everyone. In addition to direct fears surrounding the coronavirus, people across the nation must deal with extensive social isolation and disruption to family and support systems – including the loss of loved ones, as well as financial and long-term economic worries, and general uncertainty.

However, specific to WFH populations, employees may face other unique stressors. Many employees with children face additional caretaking responsibilities, with 50% of parents agreeing that it is difficult to work from home without interruption.4 Furthermore, suboptimal workplaces can lead to decreased mental wellbeing,5 and an estimated 78% of WFH workers don’t have a dedicated workspace.6

Most notably, workers face difficulty differentiating their work life from their home life when working from home.

Trends Contributing to Stress Among WFH Employees

The following trends have been noted among WFH employees:

These workers spend an extra 32-49 minutes working per day7-8

69% experience burnout symptoms9

59% take less paid time off (PTO)9

37% feel isolated and concerned about their performance10

36% said their stress levels increased10

Meetings are up 13%8

Mental Health Impact

Among some individuals, greater stress can mean greater mental health impact. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 41% of U.S. adults are struggling with their mental health or substance use during this pandemic.11

Poor mental health negatively impacts job performance, productivity, and physical capability and daily functioning, and employees at high risk of depression can have higher healthcare costs, in some cases even more so than employees who smoke or are obese.12

With mental health symptoms on the rise, people are coping in various ways, with noted increases in the utilization of psychiatric drugs and substance use.

How People Are Coping

Throughout the pandemic, the following trends have been documented.
Higher Utilization of Psychiatric Drugs

Antidepressants utilization increased 9.2%13

Antianxiety drug utilization increased 10.2%13

Anxiety medication prescriptions increased by 2 million in 202014

Higher Rates of Substance Use

Positive results in workplace drug tests are at a 16-year high15

29% of people increased alcohol use during the pandemic16

12% of adults started or increased substance use11

Greater Alcohol Use in Adults with Mental Health Symptoms

Adults with symptoms of anxiety and depression were 2x likely to increase drinking16

People with depression were 64% likely to increase alcohol intake16

People with anxiety were 41% likely to increase alcohol intake16

The risk? Psychiatric drugs such as antidepressants and benzodiazepines can produce dangerous or even potentially fatal side effects when mixed with alcohol or other substances. And drug-alcohol interactions don’t end there.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) lists a number of commonly used medications, both prescription and over-the-counter, that can have harmful interactions with alcohol. Medications listed on the NIAAA site include, but are not limited to conditions such as:17

Cold & allergy








High blood pressure

High cholesterol

Mood stabilizers

Muscle pain


Pain management


Sleep aids

The negative side effects can range from headaches, drowsiness, and reduced coordination, to potentially life-threatening effects that include heart problems and respiratory distress – all of which are detrimental to employees’ performance, and most importantly, their health and safety.

Increased Mental Health Risks for Women?

While WFH employees are all susceptible to mental health concerns due to extended isolation, women may face higher risks than men.

In general, women are more likely to report mental health concerns than men – women are twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression.18 They are also more likely to receive psychiatric medications – benzodiazepine use is twice as prevalent in women than in men.19

But women might also face additional stressors when working from home.

Women spend 40% more time on childcare than men,20 and women are typically burdened more with taking care of children at home. Half of parents with children said it is difficult to get work done without interruption,4 while 4 in 10 working mothers say it is harder to balance work life and family responsibilities.4

employer Strategies for Supporting WFH Employees

There are many ways employers can address the growing mental health impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. This can include workplace practices as well as access to wellness initiatives.

First and foremost, employers can help to eliminate the stigma surrounding mental health by encouraging employees to practice self-care and explore mental health resources available in their benefit plans.

This can include general discussions about mental health, as well as small pragmatic gestures such as:

Encouraging employees to take breaks throughout the day

Reminding employees to use their PTO

Utilizing digital channels or virtual events for employees to interact socially in a fun, non-work-related manner

Provide training to managers to help detect mental health issues

Allow for flexible scheduling – this can help in a multitude of ways, as children or roommates can make WFH difficult, or if a patient is seeking telepsychiatry, appointment times may be limited

Reviewing available mental health resources in employee health plans

Communicating the availability of resources that employees can turn to, such as Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs), and encouraging utilization

For prevention, wellness programs may be utilized to encourage proper diet, exercise, and stress management. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle and developing proper coping techniques can help individuals to endure stress. Furthermore, offering employees tools like mindfulness apps or meditation programs can be used to reduce stress.


  1. Coate P. Remote work before, during, and after the pandemic. National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI). Jan 25, 2021. https://www.ncci.com/SecureDocuments/QEB/QEB_Q4_2020_RemoteWork.html
  2. Brenan M. COVID-19 and remote work: an update. Gallup. Oct 13, 2020. https://news.gallup.com/poll/321800/covid-remote-work-update.aspx
  3. Wong M. Stanford research provides a snapshot of a new working-from-home economy. Stanford University. June 29, 2020. https://news.stanford.edu/2020/06/29/snapshot-new-working-home-economy/
  4. Parker K, Horowitz JM, Minkin R. How the coronavirus outbreak has – and hasn’t – changed the way Americans work. Pew Research Center. Dec 9, 2020. https://www.pewresearch.org/social-trends/2020/12/09/how-the-coronavirus-outbreak-has-and-hasnt-changed-the-way-americans-work/?=1
  5. Xiao Y, Becerik-Gerber B, Lucas G, et al. Impacts of working from home during COVID-19 pandemic on physical and mental well-being of office workstation users. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (JOEM). March 21, 2021. doi: 10.1097/JOM.0000000000002097
  6. New health risks of the remote workplace. Hinge Health. 2020. https://assets.ctfassets.net/cad7d5zna5rn/pcnll44IRi9Lj7epdl2S8/b9da9c1995485f2677d50a46b6e97504/Hinge_Health_WFH_Health_Risks_Report.pdf
  7. People are working longer hours during the pandemic. The Economist. Nov 24, 2020. https://www.economist.com/graphic-detail/2020/11/24/people-are-working-longer-hours-during-the-pandemic
  8. DeFillipis E, Impink SM, Singell M, et al. Collaborating during coronavirus: the impact of COVID-19 on the nature of work. National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER). July 2020. https://www.nber.org/system/files/working_papers/w27612/w27612.pdf
  9. Work in the time of coronavirus: Monster poll results. Monster. July 2020. https://learnmore.monster.com/poll-results-from-work-in-the-time-of-coronavirus
  10. National follow-up survey: US employees continue to embrace remote work – but not without struggles. GetAbstract. October 2020. https://www.getabstract.com/m-img/ga_marketing_survey_2020_remote_work_October2020.pdf
  11. Czeisler ME, Lane RI, Petrosky E, et al. Mental Health, Substance Use, and Suicidal Ideation During the COVID-19 Pandemic — United States, June 24–30, 2020. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Aug 14, 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6932a1.htm#:~:text=The%20coronavirus%20disease%202019%20(,same%20period%20in%202019.
  12. Mental health in the workplace: mental health disorder and stress affect working-age Americans. CDC. July 2018. https://www.cdc.gov/workplacehealthpromotion/tools-resources/workplace-health/mental-health/index.html
  13. Petersen A. More people are taking drugs for anxiety and insomnia, and doctors are worried. Wall Street Journal. May 25, 2020. https://www.wsj.com/articles/more-people-are-taking-drugs-for-anxiety-and-insomnia-and-doctors-are-worried-11590411600
  14. Shifts in healthcare demand, delivery, and care during the COVID-19 era: tracking the impact in the United States. IQVIA. April 29, 2020. https://www.iqvia.com/insights/the-iqvia-institute/covid-19/shifts-in-healthcare-demand-delivery-and-care-during-the-covid-19-era
  15. Workforce drug testing positivity climbed to highest rate in 16 years, new Quest Diagnostics drug testing index analysis finds. Quest Diagnostics. Aug 25, 2020. https://newsroom.questdiagnostics.com/2020-08-25-Workforce-Drug-Testing-Positivity-Climbed-to-Highest-Rate-in-16-Years-New-Quest-Diagnostics-Drug-Testing-Index-TM-Analysis-Finds
  16. Capasso A, Jones AB, Ali SH, et al. Increased alcohol use during the COVID-19 pandemic: the effect of mental health and age in a cross-sectional sample of social media users in the U.S. Preventive Medicine. April 2021. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ypmed.2021.106422
  17. Harmful interactions: mixing alcohol with medicines. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. 2003. https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/harmful-interactions-mixing-alcohol-with-medicines
  18. Depression in women: understanding the gender gap. Mayo Clinic Web site. January 2016. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/in-depth/depression/art-20047725
  19. Olfson M, King M, Schoenbaum M. Benzodiazepine use in the United States. JAMA Psychiatry. December 17, 2014. 2015;72(2):136-142. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2014.1763
  20. Schoonbroodt A. Parental care during and outside typical work hours. Review of Economics of the Household. 2018;16;2: 453-476. doi: 10.1007/s11150-016-9336-y


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