- Manatt Bhardwaj
HOW COVID-19 AFFECTS MENTAL HEALTH
Note: Mentions self-harm and substance abuse.
The current COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the way we live our lives and has negatively affected many people’s mental state. Via a survey taken in Canada, before COVID-19, 5% of Canadians reported high-to-extreme levels of anxiety. Five weeks later, that number multiplied to 20 %. Self-reported cases of depression have more than doubled, from 4 % to 10 %. Everyone reacts differently to stressful situations, and it's normal to feel tensed and worried during a crisis. The fear of contracting the virus can lead people to feel highly anxious. The anxiety of what to expect can overwhelm people as they might not feel in control. People with mental illnesses are the most affected by the ongoing pandemic.
COVID-19 has affected our economy drastically. The unemployment rate has increased, and those affected by it may feel lost about what to do next and worried about how they'll take care of themselves and their family, provide for basic needs and manage their finances. Unemployment can lead to stress, anxiety, depression and other mental health challenges.
COVID-19 precautions such as staying at home, avoiding contact with others can make people feel more isolated and increase their emotional distress. The sense of being socially excluded or lonely, the fear of catching the disease and the fear of being apart from loved ones due to physical distancing puts a lot of pressure on people coping with mental health issues or even addiction. The stress caused due to various reasons can make one self-harm or even abuse substances such as drugs or alcohol.
Domestic violence has been compounded during the lockdown. A study shows that in some parts of Canada, front-line service providers noticed a 20 to 30 % increase in domestic violence reporting. Vancouver-based Battered Women’s Support Services faced a rapid increase in crisis calls up by 300 % compared with the number of calls before the lockdown. In a Statistics Canada survey conducted in April, 1 in 10 women reported being extremely anxious about the possibility of facing violence in the home. According to a study done, victims of domestic violence show higher results of negative emotions such as sadness, depression, pessimism, anxiety and social deprivation.
Severely affected COVID-19 patients can feel a sense of loneliness as well as they are forced to stay at quarantine institutions/hospitals for a very long time without any physical contact with their near and dear ones. This can be very nerve-wracking for the family of the patients as they will be facing a lot of anxiety for the wellbeing of their loved ones. Family members of COVID-19 patients who have lost their lives may feel no sense of closure because of the inability to grieve properly for the loss of life because of the COVID restrictions that prevent them from doing so. Doctors and nurses working tirelessly every day are going through a lot of emotional distress as a lot of the burden is being put on them with shortages of supplies and staff and they have witnessed so many lives lost which gives them a sense of hopelessness and disbelief. They are not allowed to come in close contact with their family members as the fear of putting their family at risk scares them.
The sudden switch from physical to online school, which forced kids to stay at home and stare at their computer screen for hours, has taken a mental toll on the wellbeing of many students. Kids yearn that feeling of going to school and socializing with their friends. The desire of being outside having fun rather than sitting at home, being forced to do the assignments completely drains the motivation of students leaving them unable to focus and concentrate on their academics which in turn affects their grades and overall performance. The pressure put on students to complete their assignments, the isolation that they might feel together can be very challenging for some students. I, being a student in high school, found it difficult to cope with this abrupt change and faced many challenges while trying to keep up my grades.
Taking care of your mental health is very important especially during a time like this. Mental health affects our overall behaviour i.e. the way we think, act and feel. Keeping in touch with loved ones is a way to feel less isolated. Always make sure to check up on your loved ones and call them. It is necessary to stay busy and keep yourself distracted to stay away from the cycle of negative thoughts. Partaking in hobbies such as painting, cooking or drawing can be ways to cope. Taking walks can also relieve your anxiety, just make sure to social distance and always wear a mask!