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Psychological Effects of the Coronavirus Disease-2019 Pandemic

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Abstract

Going by the current physical reach of the COVID-19 pandemic in the population there are bound to be long-term implications in terms of socioeconomic and psychological impact. The swift rise of fear and anxiety among people due to uncertainty of the disease are coupled with essential yet socially disruptive measures like lockdowns and quarantines. These can lead to significant psychological and psychiatric disturbances such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, panic disorders, and behavioural disorders. Predisposing factors include staying away from family, loneliness, misinformation on social media, financial insecurity and stigmatization. Healthcare workers have a high risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder and burnout; therefore, it is paramount to understand and research the psychological impact and key determinants to prevent, identify, and manage such problems. Suggested actions include support lines for anxious people, tele-counselling, virtual connecting & help groups, encouraging meditation, conducting research on psychological consequences, and developing and utilising suitable interventions.
Perspective
Sadhika Sood
Psychological effects of the Coronavirus
disease-2019 pandemic
Medical intern, Kasturba Medical College, MAHE
Corresponding Author:
Sadhika Sood,
Kasturba Medical College,
Manipal Academy of Higher Education (MAHE)
Mangalore, Karnataka, India.
email: sadhika001 at gmail dot com
Cite this article as: Sood S. Psychological effects of the Coronavirus disease-2019 pandemic. RHiME.
2020;7:23-6.
Received: 25-MAR-2020 Accepted: 30-MAR-2020 Published Online: 01-APR-2020
www.rhime.in 23
Abstract
Going by the current physical reach of the COVID-19 pandemic in the population there are
bound to be long-term implications in terms of socio-economic and psychological impact. The
swift rise of fear and anxiety among people due to uncertainty of the disease are coupled with
essential yet socially disruptive measures like lockdowns and quarantines. These can lead to
significant psychological and psychiatric disturbances such as post-traumatic stress disorder,
depression, anxiety, panic disorders, and behavioural disorders. Predisposing factors include
staying away from family, loneliness, misinformation on social media, financial insecurity and
stigmatization. Healthcare workers have a high risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder
and burnout; therefore, it is paramount to understand and research the psychological impact
and key determinants to prevent, identify, and manage such problems. Suggested actions
include support lines for anxious people, tele-counselling, virtual connecting & help groups,
encouraging meditation, conducting research on psychological consequences, and developing and
utilising suitable interventions.
Keywords:Coronavirus; COVID-19; Mental health; Pandemic; Psychology; PTSD; Self-isolation;
Social distancing; Quarantine
Introduction
The new decade brought with it the first
pandemic of the social-media age -
Coronavirus Disease 2019, popularly known
as COVID-19. While it reminds us of the
2003 SARS outbreak, COVID-19 has proven
to be much more widespread with numbers
of the affected surpassing SARS. According
to the World Health Organization (WHO), a
total of 8422 people worldwide were
affected with SARS, with 916 deaths.[1]
COVID-19, on the other hand, has already
had over 33,000 deaths.[2]
www.rhime.in 24
The sudden outbreak of a serious
respiratory illness in China followed by
rapid spread to other parts of the world
prompted researchers to study the disease
and to isolate the virus without much
delay. We now know that the disease is
caused by a previously unknown virus:
2019-nCoV or SARS-CoV2. The uncertainty
of the disease is a major reason for
psychological stress among people. With the
WHO declaring it a pandemic on 11th
March 2020, there was a swift rise of fear
and anxiety among the general
population.[3]
Previous data on mass occurrences, like
natural disasters, shows that large scale
disruptive events are strongly associated
with ill-effects on mental health - post-
traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) being the
most frequently encountered followed by
depression, anxiety, and other behavioral &
psychological disorders.[4] Therefore, the
current pandemic poses a great risk for
psychological and psychiatric morbidity.
The disease caused by a hitherto
unrecognized infection with no vaccines or
approved drug regimens in place further
adds to the distress.
While researchers toiled to develop vaccines
and drugs, the most successful intervention
to slow the spread of disease was found to
be quarantining people in their homes.
Reducing physical interaction, popularly
known as ‘social distancing’, has been
advertised by many countries. However,
after people failed to practice adequate
social distancing during initial stages,
severely affected countries like China and
Italy had to switch to strict lockdown and
quarantine of its citizens. As more countries
opt for lockdown, the long-term
psychological impact of the circumstances
remains debatable. There is very limited
data available on the mental health aspect
of previous medical outbreaks. Some
literature shows that life threatening
medical illnesses can lead to symptoms
associated with PTSD following
recovery.[5,6] The question thus arises: are
we heading towards a mental health
catastrophe?
The vulnerable
WHO recently changed the term ‘social
distancing’ to ‘physical distancing’ to make
people feel less lonely and isolated. An
earlier meta-analysis had concluded that
loneliness is a risk factor for all-cause
mortality.[7] People living away from their
families for education or work, or
otherwise separated from their loved ones
are at a higher risk for developing mental
health problems such as depression,
anxiety, etc. Elderly people living alone are
also greatly predisposed.
While social media is aiding people in
being more connected in times of physical
isolation, it is also a major source of
rumors and false information adding to the
stress. The hourly updates on death tolls
and rising case numbers can be consuming,
especially for people predisposed to mental
health issues or already on medications for
psychiatric disorders. Furthermore,
lockdown has already caused many
manufacturing industries to shut down and
businesses to incur severe losses.[8] The
enormous hit on the economy has caused
financial insecurity and stress in the
population which will indirectly have
consequences on health. Most shaken up
are the daily wage workers who do not
have access to their sustenance income.[8]
Suspected cases and confirmed patients
perhaps suffer the most in feeling
stigmatized by the community for carrying
an infection that may inadvertently affect
other people. Being unable to meet their
close ones in isolation can add to their
suffering. The uncertainty about the
severity of infection and unsureness of the
treatment effectiveness may be the
determinants of utmost importance.
www.rhime.in 25
The impact on Physicians
Another major concern is physician burnout
and added stress on healthcare workers
who have to constantly be on their toes
with not only increasing patient load, but
also new guidelines and policies.[9] It is
expected that as the pandemic progresses,
more healthcare professionals will be found
at the brink of psychological breakdown.
Expected consequences
The sudden panic created recently with
people hoarding supplies is an indication
to perhaps expect a rise in cases of panic
disorders. With more people staying
indoors, there is a likelihood for the
development of anxiety related to
claustrophobia. Inaccessibility to drugs
will escalate withdrawal syndromes in
addicts and people who regularly abuse
substances.
In addition, there may also be a steep
rise of somatoform disorders as the
outbreak peaks and then settles down.
Therefore, mental health crisis is
inevitable during and after the pandemic.
The mental health effects of COVID-19
will further affect physical health after
the outbreak. Therefore, it is important
to understand and research the
psychological impact of the pandemic to
better prepare physicians, irrespective of
their field of specialization, to actively
look for such signs in their patients. This
will aid in early identification and
management of a large-scale influx of
patients with behavioral and
psychological problems.
A stumbling block in providing healthcare
to a vast magnitude of population is the
underequipped and moderately
provisioned healthcare set-up along with
limited number of psychiatric and
psychological health providers in the
country.[10] Hence, the pandemic should
serve as a wakeup call to invest
adequately and strengthen our healthcare
system so that the country is better
equipped to fight all medical battles.
Suggestions for psychological
support
As governments update daily guidelines,
the healthcare set-ups formulate new
policies, and the general population
practices either social distancing or strict
quarantine, everyone seems to be
proactively doing their bit to stop the
physical spread of the disease. However,
with response and recovery teams in place,
do we also have a plan of action for
rehabilitation?
Some actions that can be adopted are:
First, setting up of support lines for
coronavirus related doubts, clarification of
misinformation, and online and tele-
counselling for people facing anxiety and
stress during the pandemic can be a means
to alleviate panic and fear. Second,
connecting virtual and online neighborhood
groups could reduce the risk of loneliness.
After the outbreak, these can be converted
into voluntary community help-groups to
help people reknit their social fabric. Third,
people currently in quarantine or under
lockdown could be encouraged to take up
an indoor exercise routine blending yoga,
meditation, music and stretching exercises.
Fourth, studies and researches need to be
conducted to assess and evaluate the
psychosocial repercussions on healthcare
workers, on patients, and on the general
population. Based on the outcomes,
appropriate interventions can be put into
place and efforts made to mitigate issues.
Determining risks and predisposing factors
prospectively can play a role in selecting
people needing more care.
We need to work on these aspects in a
proactive way to reduce the long-term
psychological morbidity induced by the
pandemic. This can be done at the
community level by owning up to social
accountability and civic responsibility.
References
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... The new decade conveyed with it the first pandemic of Corona virus disease infection 2019 (COVID-19) (1). While it is not new one for than virus which cause an outbreak on 2003 (SARS-2003). ...
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Covid-19 pandemic: Depression, anxiety go viral as nation observes lockdown. India today
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