The COVID-19 pandemic has countries all over the world announcing lockdowns and stating the possibility of an even longer period of social distancing required in order to control the spread of the infection.
While lockdowns are fundamental in cutting down the growing number of cases, the death toll has been seen to rise along with over one million confirmed cases around the globe.
Currently, countries including Italy and the United States have announced over twenty thousand deaths due to COVID-19. Researchers state they cannot yet estimate whether the pandemic has reached its peak or not.
They have, however, said that the virus is likely to continue to cause infections even in the warmer weather of summer and that changes in temperature do not make a difference in its transmission.
In addition to the complications of the infection itself, the COVID-19 pandemic is also likely to cause other issues. For example, an article that appears in the New England Journal of Medicine emphasizes the increase in psychological disorders due to the coronavirus infection.
Due to COVID-19 as well as its preventive measures, an increasing number of people are developing disorders including depression and anxiety.
The prediction of an upcoming economic crisis, financial issues, and the risk of contracting the virus are among the biggest contributors to the rise in psychological issues.
The new article highlights the need for checking for the psychological health of patients along with physical health issues.
The co-author of the article Carol North, who is a Southwestern crisis psychiatrist and has also worked with survivors of Hurricane Katrina and the 9/11 incident urges health care workers to not only examine the mental health of the patients but also their fellow colleagues and themselves.
According to North, trauma related to a health crisis and natural disasters is not associated with conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder. However, it can cause other serious psychological issues including anxiety and depression.
As a result, people can adopt compulsive behaviors that are harmful to not only themselves but also those around them. Some may even become suicidal because of the uncertainty of the future.
In addition, particular groups of people are more likely to be more severely affected than others. These include those with the infection or a relative with the infection, people from lower socio-economic classes, and the older adult population who are more vulnerable.
People working in health care, especially those in the frontline, are at an elevated risk of emotional distress due to higher chances of exposure, lack of protective equipment, constant stress and first-hand witnessing of deaths due to COVID-19.
The global pandemic is not only causing death due to the deadly virus but also because of its other multi-layered effects.
North further explains that “There is the fear of being exposed and getting sick and dying, as well as the loss of the lives of friends and relatives. Then there are secondary effects—lost paychecks and the economic woes. Rates of suicide go up in populations when economic times get bad. People get stressed more in general when times are bad,”
Therefore, it is important for healthcare providers to evaluate the mental health status of their patients and ask questions related to stress, anxiety, and depressive episodes.
Secondly, the psychological health of the workers themselves should also be noted and the system should consider making changes in the schedules in case any worker is experiencing high emotional distress and elevated stress levels.
For people in quarantine, North suggests that it is important to keep in contact with any relatives or friends far away or in hospitals while following health instructions. This can be done electronically and will help in managing emotional distress and mental health during COVID-19.