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Protecting our mental health in the COVID-19 era

Something that’s been on my mind a lot since the pandemic started is this: how will the stress of COVID-19, physical distancing and lockdowns affect our mental health?

In a previous post, I dealt with the often-overlooked mental health of the health professionals and support staff working during the coronavirus crisis. Now, what about the mental health of ordinary people living through the pandemic?

How does COVID-19 affect our mental health?

How does COVID-19 affect the mental health of community members? We’re all caught up in the chaos, uncertainty, fear, isolation, and stress associated with a pandemic.

1. In one of the very first published articles on this topic, the authors reviewed over 3,000 papers dealing with infectious diseases like SARS and Ebola to assess the impacts of widespread quarantine or self-isolation. Most of these studies reported negative psychological effects including post-traumatic stress symptoms, confusion, anger, emotional disturbance, fear, depression, stress, low mood, irritability, grief, numbness, insomnia, and emotional exhaustion. These effects could still be measured up to three years later, in some cases. The authors hypothesized that self-isolation during COVID-19 would cause similar effects.

🔶 Are you experiencing any of these psychological effects? If so, how can you try to reduce them?

Stressors included longer quarantine duration, infection fears, frustration, boredom, inadequate supplies (e.g. masks, hand sanitizer), inadequate information, financial loss, and stigma.

🔶 What can we each do to reduce these stressors?

Having a history of psychiatric illness was associated with anxiety and anger 4–6 months after release from quarantine during an earlier infectious outbreak.

🔶 What can we do to prevent long-term anxiety and anger? (Especially since the COVID-19 pandemic is so much more severe than previous infectious outbreaks.)

Illustration by Martin Aubry based on electron microscope images of the coronavirus 
that causes COVID-19

2. Experts from Peking University in China made these suggestions for the public to cope with mental stress caused by COVID-19:

  • assess the accuracy of information disclosed,

  • enhance social support systems (e.g. check in with families and friends),

  • eliminate stigma associated with the epidemic,

  • maintain a normal life under safe conditions, and

  • use the psychosocial service system, particularly telephone-based and internet-based counselling for health-care staff, patients, family members, and the public.

🔶 Are any of these strategies useful for you? Can you add others?

Check out this post to read about the 4 mental health strategies that I've been using since the pandemic began.

Stay well, my friends! Our mental health is more precious now than ever.


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