How COVID-19 Impacts Mental Health
Written by Gurleen Khaira
It is no secret that we are living through unprecedented times. With the global number of coronavirus cases being at 1,867,802 (as of 13th April 2020), there is no wonder why the world is in pandemonium. Around the globe, countries have created their own action plan to combat the disease, and manage the so-called ‘peak’. Minus a few exceptions, most countries have decided to enforce a ‘lockdown’, limiting social contact with others, and closing many businesses. The phrase ‘stay home, save lives’, is echoed in every household. Whilst these efforts appear to be making a difference to the spread of Coronavirus, there are other effects that we cannot ignore. Unfortunately, the consequences of this pandemic will go beyond its direct health impact. The fear felt of the condition and the lockdown also create huge implications for mental health.
It is known that large global tragedies greatly deteriorate people’s mental health. For example, in the month following the 9/11 attack, 1 in 10 New Yorkers exhibited signs of clinical depression. The loss, fear, and anxiety felt during 9/11, is magnified during this pandemic due to the widespread reach of the virus. And whilst we try to get to grips with the loss of life, and health implications of the virus, the economic downturn caused will also have a part to play in mental health. The Institute of Fiscal Studies highlights that after the 2008 financial crisis, an additional 900,000 working age individuals endured a chronic illness, including mental health. With the economic fallout from the virus predicted to be, at minimum, just as bad as that of 2008, though many predict a deeper recession, the mental health implications will be large.
The virus presents a situation that we have never before dealt with as humanity, and the mental health implications will also be unprecedented. Our ‘normal’ way of life has completely changed. Things that we probably took for granted, like popping into the supermarket for the groceries, or visiting a friend are now closely monitored with the latter being considered illegal in some countries. It is no secret that self-isolating can help slow the spread of the virus, but isolating leaves us with a lack of human interaction. Our social behavior and ability to communicate is what makes us human, so it is no surprise that decreasing our social interactions will deteriorate mental health.
Undoubtedly, the most harrowing cost of this virus is the number of deaths it leaves in its wake. The likes of Italy, Spain,and the UK face almost 1000 deaths some days. We must remember that behind this number, lies the families and loved ones of those who have sadly passed. These sudden deaths leave people in unimaginable shock and grief, which of course harms mental health. The large number of deaths, and the fast spread of the disease conveys just how deadly it is. No one is safe, and this leads to fear. Many stay at home not only because of government guidance, but also because of fear. People are scared for their lives, and their loved ones lives.
We must also not forget about the doctors, nurses, and medical professionals on the front line. Whilst we hear about these staggering deaths, it is the medical professionals who must face these everyday. They are the ones who are seeing patients suffer, and pass away everyday, and the impact of this on their mental health is already causing concern. From previous epidemics, like SARS, we know that there was a rise in the number of doctors suffering from PTSD. The British Psychological Society not only warns of an increase in PTSD cases in doctors, but also says the UK is at risk of a mental health crisis.
During this pandemic, it is more important than ever that we take care of our mental health. Even though we need to stay home, this does not mean we cannot stay connected. Make a point to call, or even video call, friends and family, especially those who may be isolating alone. Another consequence of the Coronavirus is the spread of fake news. Reading posts online, you will be bombarded with information about the virus, some of which may not be true. So do not make assumptions about what is fact and what is fiction, but instead consult credible sources, like official government websites to find the most up to date and correct information about the condition.