Throughout the years, humanity experienced a history of pandemics, the most recent being COVID-19. Several consequences emerge from such global pandemics, many of which are new, threatening, and related to mental health. Despite the modern advances in medicine, more than 1 million deaths were reported in less than a year due to COVID-19 (Tucker & Czapla, 2021).
The emergency phase of the COVID-19 may be nearing its end, however there is an anticipation of the long-term impact on people’s mental health. In fact, Post-COVID Stress Disorder has already been identified as an emerging consequence. Common psychiatric disorders and suicide are also expected to increase during the post-pandemic time. This will be most prevalent among the vulnerable and those who are already at risk, including those who have experienced the death of a loved one, LGBITQ+ people and those who face violence in their homes. Medical comorbidities, lack of peer support, work stress, and burn-out are also factors that increase the risk of psychological damage.
Since the COVID-19 outbreak, more people have been reporting feelings of anxiety and depression, sleeping problems, alcohol and other substance misuse, posttraumatic stress disorder, and other trauma- and stress-related disorders. In fact, the qualifying criteria for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) according to DSM-5 as a result of the pandemic has been met by various people. Very often, the cause is understandable as the coronavirus itself brings fear and uncertainty, job loss and housing and food insecurity, work-life balance, grief and loss, even as a result of restrictions. In the long run, both the quarantine period and social isolation can also bring about anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress symptoms, alcohol abuse and behavioural changes such as avoiding crowds and cautious hand washing. Such symptoms are also very likely to be present among patients who required hospitalization following COVID-19 and frontline healthcare professionals. Social isolation is particularly detrimental to the elderly, who may be at a greater risk for depression, anxiety, worsening dementia, and even earlier death.
The following are some interventions that can help individuals whose mental health has been harmed by COVID-19:
- Addressing burnout, especially to frontliners, as prolonged problems may lead to acute stress disorder and PTSD
- The provision of adequate rest and breaks for workers to support workplace mental health
- Reinforcing existing services that provide psychological assistance
- Addressing stigma during the pandemic
- Outreach to clients to maintain continuity of care
Since we are still in the midst of such an emergency, we might think that the above-mentioned issues will resolve as routines resume and we start going back to the office and connecting socially. However, the full weight of what we have been going through might actually hit when this is all over. These challenges call for an urgent reorganisation of mental health services to address the mental health needs that are currently unmet and prepare for the challenges presented by the postpandemic era. Putting the challenges aside, the pandemic provided the opportunity to continue learning and sharing with other nations and link in a cooperative way.
Johanna Cutajar is a Master in Counselling graduate from the University of Malta. She works with children and adolescents as a counsellor within the education sector on a variety of issues including relationship issues, trauma, bereavement, transitions, and general mental health.
Joseph, A. (2021). As the Covid-19 crisis ebbs in the U.S., experts brace for some to experience psychological fallout. Retrieved from https://www.statnews.com/2021/05/07/as-the-covid-19-crisis-ebbs-in-the-u-s-experts-brace-for-a-long-term-impact-on-mental-health/
Tucker, P., & Czapla, C.S. (2021). Post-COVID Stress Disorder: Anaother Emerging Consequence of the Global Pandemic. Retrieved from https://www.psychiatrictimes.com/view/post-covid-stress-disorder-emerging-consequence-global-pandemic