How the Pandemic is Affecting Mental Health

The world is in a state of depression, and it goes beyond the economy. We’re talking about emotional depression. This is largely due to the pandemic.

The most obvious way the pandemic is affecting mental health is through fear and isolation. The CDC and other health organizations are recommending that people stay away from friends and family members to reduce the spread of the disease. This, paired with a general concern of catching the virus, leads to increased feelings of anxiety and depression.

But there are other sources of distress. You can barely go on social media without seeing people arguing about vaccinations, mask-wearing, and other social issues related to the pandemic. There also may be psychological effects tied to wearing a mask and taking one-off.

This article will look at how the pandemic is affecting mental health and what people can do to stay optimistic during difficult times.

How Bad is It?

The US Census Bureau released statistics from December of 2020 showing that more than 42% of people surveyed were experiencing symptoms of anxiety, an 11% increase from the previous year. This was mainly due to the fear of contracting the virus and the isolation of social distancing.

Young women were more likely to be affected than young men. People with young children were also at risk.

Those with few mental health issues were likely to experience symptoms. Those with previous mental health conditions experienced worsening symptoms. Additionally, the virus has also been shown to result in co-occurring psychiatric disorders.

Once the vaccine was released, mental health began to improve overall. The vaccinations gave people the freedom to see relatives they haven’t seen in months. Mask restrictions were being lifted and we were able to see our friends faces once again.

But the temporary uplift in mood was short-lived. The Delta variant surged causing governments to reenforce mask mandates and social distancing. This was exacerbated by the stress of students going back to school in a contagious environment.

Mental Health and Healthcare Workers

There are many community groups bearing the brunt of the pandemic, but healthcare workers may be feeling it most acutely.

People in the healthcare industry are on the frontline when it comes to fighting the pandemic. They work long hours seeing patients come in with severe symptoms. They watched many of them die.

The stress of long days may have been alleviated by a chance to come home to their families, if even for a few short hours, but, unfortunately, no such relief was in sight. Many of these workers had to isolate from their relatives for fear that they might spread the virus to them. They also had to deal with the possibility of contracting the virus themselves.

One review of studies that accounted for over 33,000 healthcare worker participants showed that 50% of them suffered from depression, 45% were dealing with anxiety, 34% were experiencing insomnia and 72% felt general distress.

The stress of COVID has caused many workers to consider leaving their job. Recent studies show that 20% to 30% are now contemplating seeking out new opportunities. One study showed that 43% of nurses and 48% are ICU workers are thinking of moving on.

The Psychological Effects of Mask Wearing

The mask-wearing mandate was a source of contention for many people. Some felt it was violating their civil rights and hiding their identities. Others felt it had to be done to eradicate a deadly virus.

The arguments that took place along with the feeling spurred by mask-wearing had negative effects on mental health. But now, studies show that people are also having mixed emotions about taking the masks off.

We have equated masks as a way to protect ourselves against the coronavirus. When we take them off, will we be safe?

On another level, we have become used to wearing masks in social situations. We have become accustomed to talking loudly, to leaning in to hear each other, to being expressive with our eyes to make up for our mouths being covered. How will we handle it once we are truly given the free and clear to take off our masks?

Experts are recommending that people start off small. Instead of trying to enter a mall where no one is wearing masks, try venturing out to a park or going to a dinner party with a few friends. Take baby steps until you get used to your newfound freedom.

Conclusion

The pandemic has thrown us all for a loop. With it continuing to carry on well into 2021, all of us are wondering when it’s going to end.

In the meantime, we must do all we can to protect our mental health. Reach out to friends via video conference. Avoid social media if it’s triggering you. And if you feel a change in professions is necessary, go for it.

Here’s hoping that we all remain strong during these difficult times.

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Dr. Alddo Molinar is an anesthesiologist, based in Martins Ferry, OH, who received his medical degree from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School.

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Alddo Molinar

Alddo Molinar

Dr. Alddo Molinar is an anesthesiologist, based in Martins Ferry, OH, who received his medical degree from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School.

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