Months under lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic could have a ‘devastating’ impact on our mental health, a new study warns.
Spending time in isolation and following social distancing measures may slow the spread of the disease, but it may also be linked to an increase in depression, anxiety, drug and alcohol abuse, domestic violence, and child abuse.
Previous large-scale health issues have led to an increase in mental distress. The SARS epidemic, for example, saw a rise in diagnoses of post-traumatic stress disorder in doctors and patients, while after 9/11 one in ten adults in New York showed signs of clinical depression in the month following the attack.
The impact of lockdown on our mental wellbeing is unlikely to disappear the moment we’re allowed outside of the house again.
Experts believe the worsening of mental illness could persist for years after the pandemic.
They say it’s essential for us to be prepared for how coronavirus will impact our mental wellbeing and for those in charge to take action now to support those struggling.
Dr Sandro Galea from Boston University said: ‘Since the first case of novel Covid-19 was diagnosed in December 2019, it has swept across the world and galvanised global action.
‘This has brought unprecedented efforts to institute the practice of physical distance in countries all over the world, resulting in changes in national behavioural patterns and shutdowns of usual day-to-day functioning.
‘While these steps may be critical to mitigate the spread of this disease, they will undoubtedly have consequences for mental health and wellbeing in both the short and long term.
‘These consequences are of sufficient importance that immediate efforts focused on prevention and direct intervention are needed to address the impact of the outbreak on individual and population level mental health.
‘The worldwide Covid-19 pandemic, and efforts to contain it, represent a unique threat, and we must recognise the pandemic that will quickly follow it – that of mental and behavioral illness – and implement the steps needed to mitigate it.’
In the research, published in JAMA, the authors recommend steps we must all take to lessen the impact of social distancing on our mental health.
They recommend the use of digital technologies to ensure social connection still happens, even if it cannot be through physical interaction. This could include having quizzes with your pals over Houseparty, chatting with your coworkers in daily Zoom meetings, and having phine calls with loved ones.
The experts suggest adjusting around this new normal but maintaining a routine – so, for example, if you once went to the church, the gym, or a yoga studio on a certain timetable, try bringing these activities home for the same schedule.
Children not at school will also benefit from a structured routine, similar to that of the schoolday they’re used to.
It’s also vital that there are ways for to monitor, report and intervene in cases of domestic violence and child abuse.
People at risk may have limited opportunities to seek help as social distancing requirements demand they stay at home and limit their travel.
The authors say ‘safe places’ are still essential and social services need to be creative in their approaches to following up on reports of problems.
And finally, the authors urge us to strengthen our existing mental health provisions and increase resources to ensure that anyone who needs help can access it.
They suggest communities and organisations could train nontraditional groups to provide psychological first aid, support, and help teach the public to check in with one another.
Therapies offered over the phone or video chat, as well as telemedicine appointments that allow doctors to diagnose and treat patients remotely, could be hugely beneficial – along with ensuring people can easily access deliveries of essential medication.
To provide support during the troubling times of coronavirus, Metro.co.uk’s mental health podcast, Mentally Yours, is releasing special episodes all about mental health in the times of Covid-19 – all recorded remotely while we work from home and maintain social distancing.
You can listen to episodes of Mentally Yours: Coronavirus through Audioboom, Spotify, and iTunes.
To chat about mental health in an open, non-judgmental space, join our Mentally Yours Facebook group.
Follow us on Twitter at @MentallyYrs.
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