How the COVID-19 Pandemic Can Disrupt Mental Health
Ever since the spring of 2020, when the coronavirus pandemic began affecting our country, as well as the entire world, people from all backgrounds have started experiencing fear, uncertainty, and stress.
There is no doubt that this global state of crisis has brought along a lot of intense feelings in people who had not been dealing with such emotions before, some of these being interpersonal sensitivity, anxiety, depression, paranoid ideation, hostility, phobia, and sleep and appetite disturbances. Sadly, in most individuals who had already been struggling with mental health problems, the coronavirus pandemic has only worsened their symptoms.
This article will offer a brief explanation about how the COVID-19 pandemic can affect the mental health of people who have not been dealing with this kind of problem before.
Can the COVID-19 Pandemic Cause Depression?
Perhaps the primary factors related to the pandemic that can lead to the development of depression among otherwise mentally healthy people are social distancing and isolation. Not only does social distancing ensures that there is a physical space between one person and the others, but it also creates a feeling of isolation.
People, such as family members and friends, are no longer able to show their affection to each other physically, such as through handshakes, hugs, and kisses, which increases the feeling of isolation and emotional distance. Consequently, individuals can become deprived of physical affection, which will only worsen their feelings of isolation and loneliness. One of the most serious mental health diagnoses these people can get is depression, which can last for several weeks to several months. Nevertheless, left untreated, which means therapy and maybe psychiatric medication, depression can last even longer, becoming a chronic disorder.
You may not even notice that you began experiencing depression, which is why it is essential to be aware of the symptoms of this disorder. The following are the early signs of depression, but keep in mind that they vary from person to person:
- a hopeless or helpless outlook on life
- lack of interest or pleasure in the activities that you once enjoyed
- severe daytime fatigue and sleep disturbances such as insomnia
- anxiety, which can manifest as restlessness, a feeling of danger, and rapid breathing
- changes in appetite and weight, such as eating more or less than usual
- mood swings, such as being extremely angry for a moment, then breaking down crying
- suicidal ideation, which is the most dangerous sign and for which the person needs to seek help as soon as possible
Contrary to popular belief, you can become suicidal in the early phases of depression, particularly if the disorder has a very aggressive onset. Taking into consideration the disruption in our daily routine and the changes we had to make in our lives in order to comply with the safety measures against coronavirus infection, it should come as no surprise if a significant number of people start feeling overwhelmed and like they lost control over their lives, which can easily lead to depression. If you or a loved one is contemplating suicide or hinting toward it, we strongly advise you to seek professional help immediately, as their life may be in serious danger.
The Link Between Anxiety and the Coronavirus Pandemic
When it comes to anxiety, which, as mentioned previously, can also be a symptom of depression, it is easy to comprehend why people with no history of mental health problems can develop it during the coronavirus pandemic. Anxiety implies exacerbated fear, as if you are in immediate danger, even though no real danger exists. To mitigate this worldwide health crisis, caution when interacting with other people is strongly recommended, which may ignite extreme anxiety in some individuals. They may come to see a potential danger of becoming infected with COVID-19 in a stranger when having to leave their home even if they wear their face mask, and anxiety will make these people avoid public places as much as possible. It is worthy of note that people with underlying health problems that coronavirus could worsen will experience anxiety to its fullest.
To understand anxiety better, here are some of the symptoms and signs that someone is experiencing it:
Lastly, it is important to know that anxiety can be a symptom or, in severe cases, become chronic, in which case the individual will be diagnosed with a specific disorder, depending on how their anxiety manifests, such as generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, or agoraphobia, which is the fear of open and public spaces. The symptoms of these anxiety disorders are roughly the same, but the differences are made by the situations in which anxiety occurs, as well as by what triggers it.
Obsessive-Compulsive Behaviors Related to the COVID-19 Pandemic
People who have the highest risk of experiencing severe obsessive-compulsive symptoms caused by the coronavirus pandemic are naturally the ones who had already been suffering from this disorder before. Nonetheless, the COVID-19 pandemic can lead to the development of obsessive-compulsive symptoms and behaviors in individuals without the disorder. To understand obsessive-compulsive disorder better, let us take a look at what it entails. On the one hand, it causes repeated unwanted thoughts or sensations, which are the obsessions, and on the other hand, it causes the urge to do certain actions over and over again, which is the compulsion.
Unfortunately, there is plenty of misinformation about this disorder and many people falsely believe they have it. It is crucial to mention that only a psychiatrist can give you this diagnosis and that self-diagnosis can be quite detrimental to your mental health in this case. To meet the criteria for obsessive-compulsive disorder, your behavior has to interfere with and disrupt your daily life, take up at least one hour a day, and be beyond your control, among other diagnosis requirements. In the context of the coronavirus pandemic, people can develop obsessive-compulsive disorder, and it is not hard to see why. Some of the preventive measures against infection with the virus that can gradually lead to the development of this disorder are:
- washing your hands with water and soap thoroughly for at least 20 seconds
- always wearing a face mask and gloves when you are in public places
- regularly cleaning up any surfaces that may become contaminated in your house
Some people with obsessive-compulsive disorder already have the habit of religiously washing their hands for a long time with unnecessary frequency, as well as the habit of cleaning their house multiple times a day, which is again unnecessary and irrational. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we have been bombarded with these messages, which are very effective for protecting ourselves against infection with the virus, but that can become ingrained in the mind of people who are extremely afraid of becoming ill. One more time, individuals with chronic health problems that make them more susceptible to infection with coronavirus are more likely to develop obsessive-compulsive disorder.
The symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder during the coronavirus pandemic tend to revolve around contamination, infectious diseases, and causing harm. In this case, the COVID-19 educational campaigns will have a negative impact on the mental health of people who start developing obsessive-compulsive tendencies.
Paranoia and the COVID-19 Pandemic
While a small dose of paranoia can be healthy, particularly during these times, as it can make you aware of whether you are adhering to the preventive measures against infection with the virus, excessive paranoia will take a heavy toll on your mental health, and it may eventually cause serious problems to your psyche. As the triggers for obsessive-compulsive behavior, those for paranoia are quite easy to see during the COVID-19 pandemic and include:
- having been close to a person who was carrying the virus
- having been infected with the coronavirus
- the possible health complications you can experience if you contract the virus
- the thought of death caused by infection with the coronavirus
Being in a paranoid state for a long period of time can trigger psychosis in people who have a predisposition to this kind of disorders and also in individuals whose mind has been overwhelmed and stressed due to the pandemic. Psychosis is very serious and usually requires hospitalization, as the patient can no longer distinguish what is real and what is not. They may start having delusions, which are unshakable false beliefs, hallucinations, and confusion in the way they think. Luckily, a psychotic episode usually responds well to treatment in inpatient facilities, but the person and their loved ones should expect the patient to be back to normal within several weeks.
What to Do If You Are Not Feeling Well Mentally During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Regrettably, the coronavirus pandemic has made it significantly more difficult for many people to receive the help they need regarding mental health. Plenty of therapists, as well as psychiatrists, were forced to cease practicing or to offer guidance to a smaller number of people in an attempt to reduce social contact. On the bright side, there is help available online, where most mental health professionals have gathered to keep providing their services to those who need help. If you feel that something is not right, feel overwhelmed, hopeless, or stressed, we encourage you to look for a therapist on the Internet. The session will be as effective as it would be in real life, and you will obtain the answers you are seeking, as well as the guidance and advice you need to navigate these dire times.
Finally, it is essential to know that there are many other mental health problems the coronavirus pandemic can cause in addition to those discussed in this article, such as eating disorders and substance abuse. Regardless of your problem, whether you think it is serious or not, it is best to contact a mental health professional and to have a talk with them. Depending on where you live, if your mental state is very bad, you can still get inpatient help, although with a series of restrictions imposed due to the pandemic. Taking care of your mental health, especially now, is just as important as taking care of your physical health, so do not hesitate to call a professional if you are feeling down.