As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage on, an accompanying crisis is beginning to emerge: the effects of the pandemic on mental health. It’s an aspect of the pandemic that demands attention, both right now and over the long term. Even when we are able to control the outbreak, the consequences for mental health will shape the future for several years to come.
What kind of effect can this type of pandemic have on mental health?
The Effects of Stress
The truth is that mental health takes a serious hit in times of global crisis, and this pandemic is no exception. People become stressed for a number of reasons in a crisis like this. They worry that they or someone they love will contract the virus, or they’re concerned about their job and making ends meet during an economic downturn. Many people are feeling the stress and anxiety of social isolation from friends and family. Census Bureau data in late May showed that one-third of Americans were showing signs of clinical anxiety or depression—a huge, worrying percentage.
Healthcare experts caution that stress alone can be more dangerous than many realize; stress can suppress the immune system and can vaso-spasms in the vascular system, which can combine to cause other illness. For instance, both during and following the time of the Great Depression, many instances of heart disease were directly associated with unemployment and its associated stress.
Increased Incidences of Mental Health Disorders
Throughout history, nearly every crisis, whether it be war, natural disasters, or a public health crisis like this pandemic, can increase the rate of mental health disorders, like anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and substance abuse.
However, a pandemic is a bit different, and maybe even more insidious, as a recent article in The Atlantic explained. Most natural disasters affect a specific region—in a global pandemic, the whole world affected. There are no “safe zones.” People cannot easily meet together outside the disaster area to get help and find solace in each other’s company, as they might during a hurricane.
Additionally, the threat during a pandemic is invisible. We can’t see or hear the coronavirus; it’s a silent invader. And unlike most other natural disasters, a pandemic drags on and on, and flares up in different areas. These elements combine to make COVID-19 a particularly significant threat to mental health. It’s difficult to stay hopeful and resilient when there’s an invisible threat out there, and even the experts can’t tell us when it will be “over.”
If you’re experiencing mental health issues during this pandemic, first of all, remember that you’re not alone, now more than ever. Text, call, or video chat with your friends and family—chances are, they’re also feeling strained. Keep in mind that telehealth options for therapy have become increasingly accessible. In addition, many therapists operate on a sliding scale for payment if your insurance does not cover it. Other general mental health tips including keeping to some sort of schedule, eating as healthily as possible, and getting regular exercise, all of which can improve your mood. Remember to stay connected with friends and loved ones, and always seek help if you feel like you’re in a crisis.