As the novel coronavirus ravages the planet, citizens of many nations have had to adjust to rapid changes. Social distancing, quarantining, wearing masks, and working from home have all become commonplace around the world. It is becoming increasingly evident with each passing day that there is an emotional toll demanded of everyone who has been placed under COVID-19 restrictions. It’s important to take a serious look at the intersection of COVID19 and mental health.
The coronavirus has forced people to distance themselves from family and friends. Large gatherings are prohibited in many areas and there are mandatory stay-at-home orders in place across the globe for all but non-essential workers. This type of social isolation leads to loneliness and poor mental and physical health.
This is of great concern as isolation can be a risk factor for suicide. In addition, older adults, who are already at greater risk from the virus itself, are suffering disproportionately from social distancing. They tend to already have reduced social circles, and further isolation contributes to feelings of loss and bereavement.
While millions of Americans have been furloughed or laid off as a result of the COVID-19 hit to the economy, the devastating reality is just sinking in that many of these job losses will be permanent. For millions of workers, there will be no “getting back to normal.” Recent reports estimate that as much as 42% of the layoffs due to the virus will be permanent.
Economic insecurity is one of the biggest factors contributing to stress and anxiety. This, in turn, can lead to higher incidents of substance abuse. Add to these stresses the realization that the impending recession will most likely last years, and there is the perfect storm of financial losses, significantly increasing the negative mental impact.
Burnout on the Frontline
As essential workers, particularly those in the healthcare industry, continue to show up to work every day, the mental health cost is incalculably high. Overwhelmed by both critically ill patients and PPE supply shortages, hospital workers, in particular, are experiencing burnout and suicide ideation. Nurses are suffering particularly hard in hospitals with low nurse-to-patient ratios.
A recent study of healthcare workers in China found that doctors and nurses were experiencing anxiety, depression, and an overwhelming psychological burden. This was especially true among women, nurses, and healthcare workers who were directly involved in the care of critical COVID-19 patients.
The COVID-19 pandemic will likely have a long-term effect on the mental health of millions of people around the world. Anyone diagnosed with a mental illness or substance abuse disorder before the spread of the virus has a higher chance of continuing poor mental health, while many new cases are expected to arise and be diagnosed as the virus runs its course.
An increase in mental health professionals and access to them is necessary. As social isolation continues, more patients need ways to connect remotely with medical professionals. Policymakers should be preparing for long-term support of COVID mental health.