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The Covid-19 pandemic is desperately worsening our mental health crises

CW: suicide

There is no doubt that the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated into a mental health pandemic. With the pervasiveness and uncertainty of coronavirus comes psychological and physical effects, fuelling anxieties and intensifying existing disorders. The virus can only worsen mental stability, as any individual can catch the infection. The dichotomy between the increase in mental health and the decrease in facilities reveals the necessity of acknowledging the potential detrimental impact of the virus on individuals’ wellbeing. It is important to be aware of the potential long-lasting effects on mental health, exemplified through studies on the psychological repercussions of previous epidemics, in order to work to prevent the same problems from happening again. Indeed, we hope the coronavirus will eventually cease to exist, but the footprints it has left behind on mental health will have a permanent and significant impact on individuals.

Even though the virus itself might not affect every person in the same way, its prevalent nature means that it indirectly affects the whole of the world through the death of loved ones and the fact that it imposes regulations on citizens that confines them both physically and mentally. Furthermore, it has become inextricably linked to economic losses, revealing how all these consequences fuel feelings of isolation, loneliness, and anxiety. Mental health problems have increased from 24.3% in 2017-2019 to 37.8% in April 202o, states the United Kingdom Household Longitudinal Study (Daly, Sutin and Robinson). As a result of social distancing and lockdown, citizens have become detached from the real world, and trapped within a specific space that denies them access to their loved ones. Indeed, about 63% of adults in the UK have reported anxiety at the newfound ambiguity towards the future and 49% have disclosed feelings of boredom (Marshall, Bibby and Abbs, 2020). This encapsulates the massive toll that coronavirus has had on mental health, as even individuals with no pre-existing anxieties have now formed them. Without the support and comfort of easy access to loved ones, people have retreated into their homes, fearing the outside world and gaining social anxieties. Furthermore, the overpowering financial pressure has led to an increasing rate of mental health problems amongst the unemployed, revealing the necessity of the government to further support these individuals and families.

In addition, pre-existing mental health conditions amongst individuals have been exacerbated as a result of coronavirus. The fundamental nature of OCD tendencies is that overpowering, negative thoughts dominate the mind. This, in turn, leads individuals to act in ways that prevent these thoughts from coming into fruition. In addition, OCD habits are learnt through social conditioning and positive reinforcement. The fact that coronavirus has forced the world into a regular routine of washing one’s hands, highlights the potential for people with pre-existing OCD to relapse into a vicious cycle (Savage, 2020). Likewise, the OCD symptom of experiencing overwhelming negative thoughts is particularly dangerous during the pandemic as there is no element of certainty, leading people into a dark place where they fear for their loved ones lives and their own future. The government needs to acknowledge this crisis in terms of mental health and those with OCD and depression need to be safeguarded and regularly checked on. 

Similarly, the decline of  health-care workers’ mental health during coronavirus demonstrates the huge self-sacrifice that needs to be more widely monitored and acknowledged by healthcare institutions. Doctors and nurses are risking their lives every day to save millions of lives, but this self-sacrifice deeply impacts their wellbeing as they are exposed to both the infection and the devastating tragedies that occur every day. A cross-sectional study in China revealed that 50% of 1257 health-care workers experienced depression, and insomnia had affected 427 (Moreno et al., 2020). Similarly, in the UK and the US  mental health issues have spiralled out of control amongst health-care workers, highlighted through the suicide of a 49 year old who was Head of Emergency Department in a New York hopsital (Sher, 2020). This suicide was linked to the haunting exposure of death that she had witnessed. Healthcare workers need support from the government and their own institutions. Scheduled work hours should be monitored and alterable, depending on the amount of exposure a worker has witnessed that day and their stress levels (Pfefferbaum, 2020). There should be counselling available to all workers and it should become mandatory to speak to a professional once a week for example.

Evidently, the consequences of previous epidemics on citizen’s mental health raises awareness of the long-lasting effects it can have. Lockdown has happened before in 2013 as a result of the Ebola epidemic and in 2003 as a result of the SARS pandemic (Wilson, 2020). Both these global crises’ increased the rates of depression, revealing the detrimental impact of confinement (Wilson, 2020). ‘One-third of SARS-related suicide victims experienced social isolation during the SARS outbreak,’ demonstrating the negative effect of lockdown, according to Sher (2020). This suggests that alternative measures could be taken, such as tightening but strengthening bubbles so that there are still some elements of normality for people. Just because lockdown has been found to reduce the rates of coronavirus, does not deter from the fact that humanity is suffering. The pessimistic and defeatist vision of the world will proceed till well after the virus has been eradicated if institutions such as the government and universities do not take action.  Furthermore, economic losses have been historically linked to an increase in suicide rates, exemplified through the Great Depression (Sher, 2020). This reveals the need for the government to financially support those struggling and offer other working schemes to keep people busy and motivated.

The huge increase in suicide rates during the pandemic needs to be addressed by the government and universities, and measures need to be taken to prevent further tragedies. The mental health crisis during the coronavirus pandemic highlights the inherent underfunding of mental health services that needs to be acknowledged and changed. It has been emphasised that ‘countries were spending less than 2 percent of their national health budgets on mental health,’ detailing the inevitable exacerbation with the emergence of the pandemic (WHO, 2020). In a survey encompassing 130 different countries, 67% reported major interruptions that hindered the smooth running of counselling and psychotherapies (WHO, 2020). This highlights the necessity of making free, lengthy counselling sessions available in universities as well as broadcasting available talk lines such as Anxiety UK; Samaritans; OCD UK; YoungMinds, etc. Importantly, the app NotOk immediately makes known the need for support from loved ones with just one button if an individual feels as though they need help. Indeed, the government needs to focus on prioritising money to mental health services as if they don’t, more and more lives will be lost, compared to if coronavirus was an isolated issue. 

Image: Wikimedia Commons