The COVID-19 pandemic and all the accompanying restrictions placed upon people worldwide have left a big unseen impact on society. It was certainly an unprecedented time, and it surely has had a massive impact on mental health. So if you have felt different during and/or after the lockdowns, know that you are not alone. Many studies have demonstrated the significant mental health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and associated restrictions. Here are a few to note:
- Increase in Anxiety and Depression Symptoms: The COVID-19 pandemic led to an increase in symptoms of anxiety and depression globally. A survey published by the CDC in August 2020 found that 40.9% of respondents reported at least one adverse mental or behavioral health condition, including symptoms of anxiety disorder or depressive disorder (30.9%), symptoms of a trauma- and stressor-related disorder (TSRD) related to the pandemic (26.3%), and having started or increased substance use to cope with stress or emotions related to COVID-19 (13.3%). The rates of symptoms of anxiety disorder and depressive disorder were approximately three times the rates reported in the second quarter of 2019. The rate of suicidal ideation was approximately twice as high as in 2018.
- Increase in Substance Use: To cope with the pandemic-related stress, more people turned to alcohol and other substances. A study published in JAMA Network Open in September 2020 found a significant increase in alcohol consumption in the United States in 2020 compared to 2019.
- Insomnia and Sleep Disorders: The uncertainties, fears, and changes in daily routine associated with the pandemic have contributed to increased insomnia and sleep disorders. One study published in the Journal of Sleep Research suggested that the incidence of sleep disturbances increased during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Impact on Healthcare Workers: Healthcare workers were significantly impacted by the pandemic, with a rise in conditions such as acute stress disorder, depressive symptoms, and insomnia. A systematic review in Frontiers in Psychology found that medical staff exposed to COVID-19 reported severe symptoms of depression, anxiety, insomnia and distress.
- Impacts on the Youth: Adolescents and young adults were also significantly affected by the pandemic. In a survey conducted by CDC, it was reported that in June 2020, 25.5% of respondents aged 18–24 years reported having seriously considered suicide in the 30 days before completing the survey.
- Social Isolation and Loneliness: Lockdowns and social distancing measures increased feelings of loneliness and social isolation. A systematic review published in Psychiatry Research suggested that quarantine is associated with negative psychological effects, including post-traumatic stress symptoms, confusion, and anger. Stressors included longer quarantine duration, infection fears, frustration, boredom, inadequate supplies, inadequate information, financial loss, and stigma.
These impacts underscore the need for mental health services and support, both during and following the pandemic. They also highlight the importance of clear communication from authorities and the provision of adequate supplies and financial support during quarantine and lockdown situations.
If you recognize any of the above issues in yourself or your loved ones, please make sure to get help from qualified mental health providers.
There are also things that you can do yourself to try and improve your mental state. Here are some strategies that may help:
- Stay Connected: Even when physical distancing is necessary, it’s important to stay connected with family and friends. Regular video calls, phone calls, texts, and social media can help.
- Maintain a Routine: Having a regular, daily routine can provide a sense of normality, purpose, and control.
- Physical Activity: Regular exercise can boost your mood and act as a natural anti-anxiety treatment.
- Healthy Eating: A healthy diet can affect your mood and energy level. Aim for balanced meals with plenty of fruits and vegetables, lean protein, whole grains, and hydration.
- Get Enough Sleep: Try to maintain regular sleep patterns and ensure you get plenty of rest.
- Limit Media Consumption: While it’s important to stay informed, too much news—especially when it’s negative—can increase anxiety. Try to limit your news intake and avoid it entirely in the hour or two before bed.
- Practice Mindfulness and Meditation: Mindfulness techniques and meditation can help to reduce anxiety and improve mood. There are numerous apps and online resources that can help.
- Limit Alcohol and Avoid Illicit Substances: While you might be tempted to use alcohol or other substances to cope with stress, they can increase feelings of anxiety and depression, and interfere with your ability to cope effectively with stress.
- Help Others Where You Can: Helping others not only benefits them but can also enhance your own well-being. This might involve offering to do grocery shopping for an older neighbor, or donating to a food bank, or simply being there to listen to a friend.
- Seek Professional Help: If feelings of stress, anxiety, or depression feel too heavy to manage alone, seek help from a mental health professional. Many practitioners offer teletherapy options. If you’re feeling suicidal, it’s crucial to reach out to a mental health professional immediately or contact a trusted person in your life.
It is quite normal to feel anxiety and stress during a crisis. Everyone reacts differently to stressful situations. What’s important is to recognize your emotions, take care of your physical health, stay connected with others, and seek professional help if needed.
For more details about anxiety, you should also read this article.