Taking Care of Mental Health in a Pandemic

Taking care of mental health is essential at any time. But during a pandemic, people may face additional challenges that make it difficult to address mental health concerns.

As COVID-19 continues to spread throughout North America, people with and without existing mental health conditions may feel overwhelmed and anxious. Both children and adults may find themselves feeling nervous or fearful of getting sick.

While it’s vitally important for people to follow health guidelines, like those outlined by the CDC, it’s also crucial that people pay attention to their mental health during these difficult times.

Population-Wide Mental Health Effects of a Pandemic

People may have a multitude of reactions and experiences to and as a result of the pandemic. COVID-19 has also affected the population as a whole by increasing known risk factors for mental health issues, including:

• Unpredictability
• Uncertainty
• Social isolation as a result of lockdown and social distancing
• Financial stress
• Inactivity
• Decreased social support

As the economy has taken a hit, so has mental health — even in people who did not previously have mental health issues.

According to a recent study on COVID-related mental health issues published in The Lancet, evidence shows a marked increase in depression, anxiety, and stress in the general population due to the pandemic.

The study notes that young people are notably at risk for mental health issues at this time, citing an increase in calls to helplines for help with anxiety.

People with existing mental illness are also greatly affected by the pandemic. There’s some evidence that people with existing psychological issues may be at a higher risk for contracting the virus. The onset of the pandemic has also reduced access to medical care and support services.

People who are at higher risk for mental health issues during a crisis, like a pandemic, include:

• People who are at high-risk for COVID-19 complications
• Young people
• Caregivers
• Frontline and essential workers
• People with existing mental health issues
• People with substance abuse issues
• People who have faced employment changes like loss of a job or
reduced income
• Socially isolated people
• People with disabilities
• Racial and ethnic minority groups
• Homeless individuals

Unfortunately, while the population’s mental health has been widely affected by the pandemic, the already under-equipped mental health system is struggling to handle the current mental health crisis. It is currently unable to meet the rising mental health needs of society during a pandemic.

Some people may experience mental health issues for the first time during the pandemic. For most, anxiety and other worries will dissipate as the situation eventually comes to an end. However, for others, these mental health issues may stick around.

Trends We Can Expect to See in the Future

The pandemic’s mental health challenges have made clear the importance of accessible mental health services and support. They have also clearly demonstrated the many weak spots in the system.

We will likely see a continued increase in remote mental health services long after the pandemic has ended. We may also see changes in how telehealth services are rendered and reimbursed.

We may observe new, emerging approaches to providing mental health services. We will also likely see a continued upward trend in mental health issues, particularly as a result of the situation’s impact on the economy. People will experience mental health ripple effects as they face economic hardships.

There may also be a lingering, collective obsession with hygiene.

Suppose the current mental health crisis is not addressed. In that case, the country can expect the number of people affected by mental health disorders to increase down the road.

Changes We’ve Already Seen

Increases in telehealth services is a significant change brought on by the pandemic. While telehealth was already around, the pandemic prompted a boom in this industry.

Remote healthcare services, including mental health services, allows for increased access. Still, this type of remote care is not appropriate for everyone. Not everyone is technologically savvy or able to access a computer with an internet connection. Digital therapy, like in-person therapy, may also not be financially within reach for some people.
The future mental health of citizens post-pandemic is reliant on ensuring services and support are accessible and available to all.

Written by: Steph Coelho

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