The Impact of Covid on Mental Health

This post is part series for Mental Illness Awareness Week, October 4-10, 2020.

Today is the third day of national Mental Illness Awareness Week. Today we’ll look at the impact COVID-19 has had on our collective mental health this past year.

It’s no secret that the current pandemic is affecting people’s mental health.

In the United States alone, there have been more than 7 million cases of infection and over 200k deaths. In the world, those cases rise to 34 million and 1 million respectively. Adding to the stress, there’s been an uptick in cases in hard-hit areas like New York.

The Kaiser Family Foundation found that, “in mid-July, 53% of adults in the United States reported that their mental health has been negatively impacted due to worry and stress over the coronavirus.” A number of adults also report other negative impacts on their mental health and physical health, such as, “difficulty sleeping (36%) or eating (32%), increases in alcohol consumption or substance use (12%), and worsening chronic conditions (12%), due to worry and stress over the coronavirus.”

These results are exacerbated when you look at those who had a mental health condition prior to the pandemic.

The mandatory stay-at-home orders and quarantine protocols forced many Americans to deal with social isolation, bring a widespread experience of loneliness, which has been associated with a reduced lifespan and greater risk of mental and physical illnesses.

Among concerns over becoming sick, many people report similar stress-related symptoms:

  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Worsening of chronic health problems
  • Worsening of mental health conditions
  • Increased used alcohol and/or tobacco

The stress of the pandemic does not hit everyone equally – there are populations that are more vulnerable. The CDC identified these key groups:

  • People who are at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19 (for example, older people, and people of any age with certain underlying medical conditions).
  • Children and teens.
  • People caring for family members or loved ones.
  • Frontline workers such as health care providers and first responders,
  • Essential workers who work in the food industry.
  • People who have existing mental health conditions.
  • People who use substances or have a substance use disorder.
  • People who have lost their jobs, had their work hours reduced, or had other major changes to their employment.
  • People who have disabilities or developmental delay.
  • People who are socially isolated from others, including people who live alone, and people in rural or frontier areas.
  • People in some racial and ethnic minority groups.
  • People who do not have access to information in their primary language.
  • People experiencing homelessness.
  • People who live in congregate (group) settings.

What might the impact of COVID-19 be on our future mental health?

The Kaiser Family Foundation warns that the “pandemic is likely to have both long- and short-term implications for mental health and substance use, particularly for groups likely at risk of new or exacerbated mental health struggles.” The psychological toll of the pandemic on essential workers and healthcare providers may last up to three years after the initial outbreak.

Individuals who were dealing with mental illness prior to COVID-19 and those newly affected will more than likely require both mental health and substance use services, which means increasing access to services overall. Mental Health America stresses that we “must be even more prepared to help. Removal of barriers, loosening of regulations, more options for help, and policy that will allow an expanding workforce to support and serve must become permanent.  Proactive mental health services must become part of the entire health care landscape. Peers, social workers, and counselors should be part of all delivery systems -from primary and emergency care, to prevention and universal screening – especially for young people and those with chronic conditions.”

While we can only hypothesize about what exactly will happen in the upcoming months, it’s also important to focus on the present time and manage all the negative news we’re bombarded with. So what can we do to manage the stress of dealing with a pandemic?

The best thing you can do is to take care of yourself!

Make sure you’re staying as safe and as healthy as possible.

The CDC recommends that you should:

  • Know what to do if you are sick and are concerned about COVID-19. Contact a health professional before you start any self-treatment for COVID-19.
  • Know where and how to get treatment and other support services and resources, including counseling or therapy (in person or through telehealth services).
  • Take care of your emotional health. Taking care of your emotional health will help you think clearly and react to the urgent needs to protect yourself and your family.
  • Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including those on social media. Hearing about the pandemic repeatedly can be upsetting.
  • Take care of your body.
  • Take deep breaths, stretch, or meditate.
  • Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Get plenty of sleep.
  • Avoid excessive alcohol and drug use.
  • Make time to unwind. Try to do some other activities you enjoy.
  • Connect with others. Talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling.
  • Connect with your community- or faith-based organizations. While social distancing measures are in place, consider connecting online, through social media, or by phone or mail.

Mental Health America offers a webinar full of top tips to deal with the pandemic stress:

Top Tips To Decrease Coronavirus Anxiety & Improve Emotional Well Being

SAMHSA has published a pamphlet full of valuable information on tips for social distancing, quarantine, and isolation:

Stay safe everyone, and I’ll see you tomorrow!