For most of 2020, the COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) pandemic has affected everyone worldwide and put a hold on everything. This is especially true right here in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the United States still has the most number of cases (nearly 23 million) and most number of deaths (over 383,000). One frequently-discussed topic during this pandemic is the mental health issues that many people have been experiencing throughout 2020. Pandemic-related factors such as job lost and COVID-19 sickness have led mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety and paranoia to rise.
The pandemic’s effects on mental health
According to an article from Ecowatch.com titled, “More Than Half of COVID-19 Survivors in Study Reported Psychiatric Disorders”, 55 percent of former patients who were surveyed said that they experienced either post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression, insomnia or obsessive compulsive (OC) symptoms. The scholarly journal that published that study was Brain, Behavior, and Immunity. Furthermore, mental health effects impacted both COVID-19 survivors and people who have not contracted COVID-19 yet alike.
Front-line workers during the pandemic
One group that has seen how COVID-19 has affected both their mental and physical health are front-line health care workers. Science Daily reported that more than half of COVID-19 health care workers are at risk for mental health problems. The report came from the University of Utah in which the educational institution surveyed 571 health care workers. The survey list included 473 emergency responders (firefighters, police, EMTs) and 98 hospital staff (doctors, nurses), in the Mountain West region between April 1 and May 7, 2020.
56% of the respondents tested positive for at least one mental disorder. Meanwhile, the prevalence for each specific disorder ranged from 15% to 30% of the respondents. Their disorders include problematic alcohol use, insomnia, and depression, which topped the list. The potential exposure to the virus can also resulted in the workers developing long-term anxiety, fear and sense of helplessness.
Mental illnesses may be a side effect
KHN.org stated in a summary that The Lancet conducted a study and found that 20 percent of COVID-19 patients are diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder within 90 days after their diagnosis. In this study, The Lancet said that although people with mental illnesses such as depressive, obsessive-compulsive, or anxiety disorders scored higher on all four symptom scales than did individuals without these mental health disorders, both before and during the COVID-19 pandemic, they did not report a greater increase in symptoms during the pandemic.
Basically, people with these disorders showed only slight symptom decreases. This particularly includes people who have substance use disorders and have survived traumatic events. Whereas for their counterparts who have fewer mental health illnesses, they showed a greater increase in COVID-19 symptoms. By viewing the data for this study, it is understandable for people to become surprised when learning about these findings. One might have thought the people with more mental health problems, as well as physical health problems, would show increased COVID-19 symptoms than individuals who do not have a lot of health issues.
What to expect in 2021
For 2021, many people globally are hoping for a speedy end to the pandemic. This pandemic has impacted everyone’s lives and its impact will remain for many years and even decades. However, even if physical effects decreased or the pandemic cease to exist, the mental effects will still remain. Lisa Carlson, the immediate past president of the American Public Health Association and an executive administrator at the Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, explained to CNN about the current pandemic should be a time where the topic of mental health should now be an important one.
Carlson stated, “There are definitely things here that are going to exacerbate each other. I really hope that above all, this is really the moment when we break down barriers to talking about mental health, because I think the most important thing we can do — as professionals and in our families and in our communities — is to talk about it”. She also mentioned that people should start talking about mental health while discussing public health, even when mentioning COVID-19. As COVID-19 vaccines are now distributed, she also said that there is still no vaccine for mental health just like there are vaccines for physical health.
Hopes for the future
In recent months, there are great efforts that emphasized on how to stop the physical spread of COVID-19. Regarding combating mental health crises in this pandemic, there are resources that can help everyone overcome their most vulnerable moments. Access Washington has a webpage that devotes to guiding people on how to respond to the coronavirus.
On this page, there are numerous resources available to select from. For examples, these resources ranged from nearby COVID-19 testing centers to mental and emotional well-being tips. About the mental and emotional well-being tips, some of the notable resources include a “Warm Line” where people living with emotional and mental health challenges can call at 877-500-9276 and the Suicide Prevention Line at 800-273-8255. Maintaining a strong mental health is equally important as keeping a strong physical health.