|Mental Health Challenges in a Strange New World
Along with the acute health effects of
COVID-19, the pandemic is associated with a number of long-term mental health
challenges. Long periods of isolation, lack of activity, and large-scale
anxiety are having a profound effect on people with existing mental health conditions.
Worrying new symptoms are also arising for people without a history of mental
illness, as everyone struggles with the harsh realities of a strange new world.
Self-care and mindfulness have a huge role to play as we transition to a new
kind of "normal", with human connections and physical activity also
Coronavirus has led to a sharp increase in
anxiety across the globe, as people adjust their lives to what is a very real
threat. The world doesn't seem as safe as it did just a few weeks ago, with
public places and other people representing a possible source of infection.
Feelings of stress and anxiety are a common reaction to the disease, not just
to the possibility of developing acute physical symptoms, but also to the
overall and sometimes unshakable feeling of uncertainty.
Most people haven't dealt with anything
like this before, with uncertainty often leading to overwhelming or confused
feelings. According to clinical psychologist, Professor Michael Kyrios,
"Humans are pre-programmed to continuously estimate how likely it is that
something negative is going to happen, and how severe that negative event or
impact is going to be." No-one is sure exactly how long COVID-19 will be a
factor in our lives, which means the likelihood or severity of danger is
unknown and can be overestimated.
In addition to the disease itself, COVID-19
has become a disease of isolation. Anyone with coronavirus needs to isolate to
avoid passing on the disease. People who have been in contact with the virus
also need to remove themselves from society, and even those without symptoms
are advised to stay inside to stop the spread. While these isolation measures
make sense and have worked fairly well in controlling the pandemic, they are
also responsible for growing feelings of loneliness. Physical distancing may
work, but it's not without side effects.
Calls to mental health hotlines have spiked
over recent weeks, and Australian Government modelling forecasts a 50% increase
in suicide cases related to COVID-19. A rise in domestic violence and addiction
cases have also been forecast, as people struggle to cope with anxiety about
the disease and physical isolation from the rest of the world. Due to the
current level of success in Australia and New Zealand in terms of controlling
COVID-19, the economic shutdown and associated distress may lead to more long-term
deaths than the virus itself.
In order to emerge from this period with
strength and clarity, it's important to look after yourself. Mindfulness and
physical activity are crucial, so spend some time with your thoughts and your
running shoes. Professional help is available, with Lifeline, Beyond Blue, and
other organisations adding resources to cope with growing demand. Despite the
difficulties involved, human connection is more important than ever, with phone
calls and video conferencing apps taking over from handshakes and hugs. While
we may be isolated from each other at the moment, it's important to remember
that we're all going through this together.