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  • Jessica Lutz

Mental Health & COVID-19

Read about how coronavirus affects mental health and coping methods!

Understandably, much of the focus on the current COVID-19 pandemic is on protecting physical health. However, alongside the threat to physical health, the effects on mental health can not be overlooked. Stress from oversaturation of news, increased financial burdens and decreased social contacts are some of many factors threatening the mental health of people around the world. The effects of this pandemic on mental wellness may not fully manifest until after the initial impact, but we can look back at past pandemics and emergencies to show the possible magnitude of the problem and encourage effective solutions.

In late March, the International Journal of Social Psychiatry published a review of the mental health impact of past emergencies, which gives valuable insight into what the world should expect as the COVID-19 pandemic evolves. Previous outbreaks, such as SARS and MERS, left many people quarantined, and studies found biological indicators of stress raised significantly as a result. Moreover, after a city-wide lockdown due to the Boston Marathon bombing that paused life in similar ways that stay-at-home orders are doing today, the prevalence of certain psychiatric disorders was three times higher than normal. There is also evidence that the increase in social media and inadequacy of official news sources cause misinformation and fear to spread. One study looked at the lockdown imposed at a university because of a security threat. It found that people with easy access to their phones and multiple social media outlets actually had higher levels of stress because they had been exposed to conflicting and confusing information, much like the current news coverage of COVID-19. Finally, this review points out that healthcare providers are an important high risk group to consider due to the increased emotional, physical and mental demand of their job. In the SARS outbreak in Singapore, 27% of healthcare workers reported experiencing psychiatric symptoms. When considering the stress of their jobs, combined with the fear of infecting loved ones that can interrupt their interpersonal relationships, it is easy to see the importance of ensuring healthcare workers have sufficient access to mental health resources. Though evidence points to the devastating effects of the pandemic on mental health, it is important to note there are ways to counteract that. The CDC addresses all of the previously stated factors that could contribute poor mental wellbeing throughout the course of the pandemic. Importantly, they highlight that being able to recognize physical, emotional and mental signs of stress is key to the maintenance of mental wellness. Physical signs include headache, stomachache, loss of appetite. Emotional signs include guilt, anger or depression. Mental signs include poor memory, indecisiveness and having difficulty concentrating. To prevent these symptoms from causing more serious health problems they recommend taking breaks from the news and technology, keeping a balanced diet, exercising, setting aside time to relax and staying connected with family and friends. Moreover, many studies, including one published by The Journal of Biomedical Medicine, have shown the positive effects of giving back and helping others on mental health. Therefore, donating to meaningful organizations or even just staying home to keep others safe can be some of the best things people can do now for their overall wellbeing. For those still overwhelmed, there is also a Disaster Distress Hotline that people can call at 1-800-985-5990 or text at TalkWithUs to 66746 to talk with a trained crisis counselor.