Since the start of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, many people’s lives have been and continue to be affected by this respiratory virus. It has altered daily routines, has led to financial fear, and forced social isolation.

News outlets and social media have focused heavily on the implications of the virus in regard to physical health and giving recommendations on how to preserve physical well-being. These guidelines include wearing masks out in public, social distancing, and limiting outings to only essential matters. Since the start of quarantining, people have been hit with a new reality, one very different from the reality they felt comfortable in previously.

But an issue that has been overlooked is the mental health decline that has accompanied the pandemic. The feeling of worry and stress are normal human responses when people are in a state of danger or threat; and this whole pandemic has caused widespread despair and feelings of vulnerability.

Anxiety has spread because of a wide array of concerns, including uncertainty of when normalcy is going to return, worries about contracting the virus or of ones loved ones getting sick, of how long isolation will continue, and the loneliness caused by this isolation can all lead to negative overthinking.

Not to mention, continuously being bombarded with daily COVID-19 news, some of which is misinformation and mere rumors, can make a person feel even more out of control and disoriented. This can lead to anxiety, fear, stress, depression, and emotional exhaustion.1

Previous studies evaluated the effects of quarantining on mental and psychological health, which can be compared with the current state of quarantine. A study was done that evaluated the psychological effects of quarantine with 129 participants. In the study, it was found that 28.9% of participants had symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and 31.2% had symptoms of depression.2

Moreover, the longer the quarantine lasted, the higher the occurrence of the PTSD symptoms.2 It was also seen that PTSD and depressive symptoms were linked more with those who have had direct exposure to the transmissible disease.2

This study brings light to how COVID-19 has the ability to disturb those whose mental health has been affected negatively by the pandemic. Being quarantined can cause distress leading to signs and symptoms of mental decline.

Additionally, 24 studies were collected that documented the effects of quarantining, showing that people in quarantine have developed symptoms of low mood, stress, anxiety, and depression.3 

These are feelings that most people are currently experiencing but discussing mental health has always been a taboo topic that can cause mental health to be overlooked. Twenty-eight percent of parents who were quarantined with children had been diagnosed with PTSD, which can be expected.3

Parents seem to be struggling with balancing work-related situations with family obligations. To feel stunned by the situation and feeling a loss of control are normal and should be addressed.

With more than one-third of Americans reporting that coronavirus has had a serious impact on their mental wellbeing and close to 60% feeling that the virus has affected their daily lives,4 it is important to remember during this time that we are all in this together.

In order to lessen the feelings of stress and anxiety, one must begin to address the problems causing these emotions. Some things people can do to address stress or anxiety from the situation are highlighted below.
 
  1. The first thing is to limit the amount of media exposure, as coronavirus updates can cause a state of restlessness. Being informed about the situation through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization suffice staying informed without the negative repercussions on mental wellbeing. These are reliable sources that will not issue false information for the purpose of gaining more views the way media outlets would.
  2. Stay connected to friends and family remotely through technological devices. Social relationships and interactions have a direct link with mental health and behavior.5 Putting aside an hour a day to give a friend or family member a call or to video chat can refresh one’s mood and can deviate the mind away from thinking about the virus. This is especially important for those who have been socially isolating on their own and who have almost no social interaction.
  3. Allow your skin to get some sunlight through walks or simply soaking up in the sun outside. Getting some sun can increase serotonin levels, which helps boost mood and lead to calmness.6 This can help those who have been struggling with symptoms of anxiety and feelings of depression since the start of quarantine.
  4. Keep your body moving with home workouts. Exercise is a natural stress reliever and mood booster. It promotes health through the release of endorphins—hormones in the brain that respond to pain and stress positively. A study has shown that running for as little as 15 minutes per day can help reduce the risk of depression by 26%7. It may be hard to begin exercising at a time like this but starting slow and steady can lead to lasting effects.
  5. Lastly, do not be afraid to get help from a mental health professional. Currently, telehealth has become more widespread where health care services are being delivered through video and audio technology. This is a modified way of staying within the realms of social distancing but still getting the care one needs. Mental health clinics are also offering telehealth where therapy and counseling is being offered online.8 Being able to talk to a professional mental health provider and get the psychotherapy needed will certainly promote wellness and healing.

Mental health is undoubtedly as important as physical health and should also be addressed throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. The longer our society goes without social interaction, the more likely mental health decline is to take place. Addressing the concerns around the growing mental health decline is a must to avoid the increase in anxiety, PTSD, and depression that have been experienced in quarantine situations.  

References
  1. “COVID-19: How to Manage Your Mental Health during the Crisis.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 2 Apr. 2020, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/coronavirus/in-depth/mental-health-covid-19/art-20482731.
  2. Hawryluck, Laura, et al. “SARS Control and Psychological Effects of Quarantine, Toronto, Canada.” Emerging Infectious Diseases, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, July 2004, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3323345/.
  3. Hoof, Elke Van, and Vrije Universiteit Brussel. “Lockdown Is the World's Biggest Psychological Experiment - and We Will Pay the Price.” World Economic Forum, 9 Apr. 2020, www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/04/this-is-the-psychological-side-of-the-covid-19 pandemic-that-were-ignoring/.
  4. New Poll: COVID-19 Impacting Mental Well-Being: Americans Feeling Anxious, Especially for Loved Ones; Older Adults Are Less Anxious, 25 Mar. 2020, www.psychiatry.org/newsroom/news-releases/new-poll-covid-19-impacting-mental-well being-americans-feeling-anxious-especially-for-loved-ones-older-adults-are-less-anxious.
  5. Umberson, Debra, and Jennifer Karas Montez. “Social Relationships and Health: a Flashpoint for Health Policy.” Journal of Health and Social Behavior, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2010, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3150158/.
  6. Mead, M Nathaniel. “Benefits of Sunlight: a Bright Spot for Human Health.” Environmental Health Perspectives, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences,Apr. 2008, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2290997/.
  7. “The Mental Health Benefits of Exercise.” HelpGuide.org, 29 Apr. 2020, www.helpguide.org/articles/healthy-living/the-mental-health-benefits-of-exercise.htm.
  8. Shore, Jay. What Is Telepsychiatry?, Jan. 2017, www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/what-is-telepsychiatry.