COVID-19 Pandemic is Taking its Emotional Toll
By Dr. Meredith Smith & Dr. William Elsass
It’s no secret that the daily dose of disturbing news and all the disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic has left many of us feeling anxious, scared and stressed. In a recent poll conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 45% of adults said the pandemic has harmed their mental health, and 19% said the pandemic has had a major impact on their mental well-being.
We don’t have much data yet on the long-term effect of the coronavirus on mental health, but we know that trauma — in this case potentially caused by sudden job losses, increased caregiving responsibilities and economic insecurity — can take an emotional toll. Couple these factors with a lack of access to traditional social supports, and it’s clear to see why so many say their mental health has taken a hit.
Of course, everyone will react to the coronavirus differently. However, experience has shown that when we disrupt the routines of people who are already dealing with depression or we restrict their access to typical resources, it can exacerbate symptoms. That can also hold true for individuals battling substance abuse issues.
Social isolation can also be particularly challenging for those at risk of suicide. Last month, two Air Force Academy cadets died by suicide after the Academy instituted strict social distancing measures. We don’t know what role isolation might have played in those suicides or other factors that might been involved, but past studies have shown that a lack of social connections can have a negative impact on mental health.
With that in mind, we should make a special effort to stay connected to those who are at particular risk of suicide; that population may include people who have previously attempted suicide, those who have had a family member die by suicide, people with substance abuse issues, those facing financial instability and people with chronic health conditions.
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