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COVID-19 and Mental Health

by Sophie Rasmussen, GRADE 9 

With 100 million cases worldwide, and over 2 million deaths as of January 2021, COVID-19 continues to create chaos and induce economic and social crises. A malicious virus that doctors currently work tirelessly on creating vaccines to combat.

As the virus impacts governments and countries decisions for guidelines and necessary restrictions, more mental health issues are prominent in these strange situations.

How are the youth, middle-aged and elderly alike supposed to combat the growing loneliness of self-isolation, restrictions and lockdowns? How does one adjust from their “norm” being taken away from them, and their days spent differently?

 

There is no doubt that the events of the past year that the virus has caused are huge contributing factors to mental illness. The most common mental illnesses are deemed by the World Health Organisation to be anxiety disorders, with depressive disorders and social phobias being most prominent amongst these. 

What contributes to mental health issues?

There are various factors relevant to the pandemic that can cause situations in which mental health issues can accumulate, and these can be applicable to many age groups. The drastic, but necessary measures that have been taken have led to an economic crisis worldwide, and in many countries, there have been extremely high levels of unemployment. The US has suffered extremely at the hands of the pandemic, and 15 percent of adults reported being personally laid off from their jobs due to the coronavirus pandemic, half of which say they are currently still unemployed. Around 60 percent of workers who lost their wages due to COVID-19 said to be earning less than what they had previously been. This really adds to pressure especially on adults in families that have to provide for people around them and now have to actively seek new employment and a source of income. A longitudinal study done by an S.M Montgomery  revealed that those who had recently become unemployed had a higher risk of suffering from depression and anxiety

 

In many countries there have not only been strict guidelines, but also self isolations, allowing individuals only to go out for food shopping and exercise, excluding social gatherings. The lack of social contact with friends and family, as well as others, can lead to extreme loneliness and unhappiness. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that not only is social isolation strongly associated with increased rates of depression, anxiety and suicide but also relates to physical symptoms such as the correlation between having minimal social relationships or extreme loneliness, and a 29 per cent increase in the risk of heart disease for elderly individuals. In the United States alone, during the stages of COVID regulations that partook in June 2020, 40 percent of 18+-year-olds responded to a survey revealing that they had at least one mental or behavioural condition (including symptoms of anxiety, and depression). This can be reflective of what the effects of the pandemic have been on societies and people.

 

Youth and Mental Illness 

Some of the main sufferers during this pandemic are the younger generations, as they have been faced with many trials and tribulations that could affect their psychological state, especially given that they are in stages of development and finding themselves. The National Health Institute reports that in 2015, in terms of 12-17-year-olds, 12.5 per cent had experienced at least one major depressive episode, which can give insight into the sad reality for many adolescents.

 

Many regulations have implemented that online school is necessary rather than physical school, as this can reduce the number of people gathered that are prone to spreading the virus.

Online school is very subjective in the fact that it can benefit those with social anxieties but can cause loneliness by its nature of lacking real contact with others. A relevant issue with online school is the distractions that many students face especially as we live in the age of smartphones and social media, where minimal effort can be put into entertainment and short term gratification and often the prospects of watching a youtube video or scrolling endlessly through Instagram can seem more tempting than listening in on a google meet. 

 

Knowing the struggles of adolescence, it is not surprising that studies done by the American Psychological Association reveal that 7 in 10 youths of “Gen-Z” suffer from symptoms of depression during the current pandemic. It was recorded that of the older Gen-Z’s that partook in this survey, many of them had experienced extreme loneliness, distraction, having lack of motivation and feeling miserable under the stress of the conditions of the pandemic.

Help During These Difficult Times

With self-isolation, comes exceptional loneliness that can be hard to overcome and contributes greatly to the poor mental state of an already anxious or struggling individual that doesn’t have their usual support or care that they need at a crucial time like this.

There are, however, many support systems in place that can help anyone struggling with their mental health in this pandemic. According to the CDC, it is beneficial to take breaks from constant stimulation from social media and to try and maintain healthy sleep patterns, along with exercising often and trying meditation. Keeping connections with others, such as those around you or friends through the phone, will help one to feel more grounded during these confusing days. There are also many hotlines where one can get support and information in what they are going through, like for example the NAMI helpline. These can be helpful coping mechanisms that can get a good routine in place during these stressful times.