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5 Ways Covid-19 Affects Our Mental Health

5 Ways Covid-19 Affects Our Mental Health

Experts warn the impact could remain well into the future

Photo by Arif Riyanto on Unsplash


The COVID-19 pandemic has dominated all our lives for more than a year. In addition to its negative impacts on our physical well-being, it has taken an enormous toll on our mental health. As we enter into the second year of this pandemic with faster spreading virus variants, renewed lockdowns, further isolation, and economic strife, its negative effects on our mental health will likely compound.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, about 4 in 10 adults in the United States have experienced symptoms of anxiety and depression during the pandemic. Sorrow over the death of loved ones, a lack of social interaction, job losses, and food and housing insecurities have all led to this increase. Among those who have suffered the most, young adults, minorities, essential workers, and unpaid caregivers have seen a dramatic increase in mental health issues, substance use, and suicidal thoughts.

The pandemic has triggered an array of emotional issues. Survivors of natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina or the Chernobyl nuclear accident in Ukraine experienced a sharp increase in mental health issues which lingered for years, sometimes decades, after the event. Public health specialists have warned that the pandemic will likely have long-term negative effects on mental health, much longer than the physical health impact.

With that in mind, it’s important to be aware of certain mental health conditions that may be especially susceptible. Here are a few exacerbated by the pandemic.

1. Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

As for the mental health condition associated with the pandemic that is most likely to last the longest, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD, may lead the pack.

OCD is a mental illness that causes unwanted thoughts (obsessions) or urges to do something repeatedly (compulsions). Some people can have both obsessions and compulsions. Feelings of being dirty or contaminated and needing to clean, wash, or sterilize items or themselves over and over is very common in patients with OCD. Experts have stressed the importance for all of us to wash our hands frequently during the pandemic. For someone with OCD, the fear of contamination by the virus can exacerbate the illness. Excessive handwashing can lead to chapped skin, dermatitis, and skin infections. According to Steven Taylor, a professor in psychiatry at the University of British Columbia, for people with OCD, “Covid-19 is likely to trigger or worsen their symptoms'' unless they receive professional mental health treatment.

2. Anxiety disorders

The next mental health condition to watch for during the pandemic is anxiety, which is a manifestation of OCD. Anxiety disorders refer to specific psychiatric disorders involving extreme fear or worry and include generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and panic disorder. Excessive phobias, such as agoraphobia or acrophobia, are types of anxiety disorder.

These are anxious times, so it’s only natural to experience some level of fear and anxiety. As Covid-19 spread through China in January and February 2020, researchers conducted half a dozen studies with over 10,000 people and found that half experienced serious signs of depression, and 35% showed serious anxiety symptoms. The relationship between anxiety and poor sleep tends to be a vicious cycle. When you worry, you don't sleep well which contributes to greater anxiety. The more we worry, the worse our mental health becomes. Likewise, the stress and isolation has heightened anxiety and depression especially for those with preexisting psychiatric disorders and substance use disorders.

“It’s time to tell everyone who’s dealing with a mental health issue

that they’re not alone, and that getting support and treatment

isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength.”

~ Michelle Obama

3. Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

PTSD is a long-term condition where the person experiences flashbacks and re-experiences the traumatic event resulting in a high level of distress and life impairment. They may suffer nightmares and repeated uncontrolled thoughts of the traumatic event. People with PTSD live with a chronic dread. The isolation that social distancing brings could keep them from getting the therapy they need or even having family or friends check up on them. Add to that the fear and anxiety surrounding the mortal threat of Covid-19 can be too much for them to endure. Yuko Nippoda, a psychotherapist and spokesperson for the UK Council for Psychotherapy, points out that the constant fear of losing someone to Covid-19 can experience a resurgence of PTSD.

4. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

ADHD is one of the most common mental disorders affecting children. The condition can continue well into adulthood, although the symptoms may not be recognized or diagnosed until the person is an adult. Adults with ADHD tend to have other mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder, yet only a quarter of those diagnosed seek treatment.

The symptoms can be broken down into two categories: inattentiveness and hyperactivity and impulsiveness. Adults with ADHD may have trouble listening or focusing, forming and maintaining relationships, remembering details, and may have a hard time performing work tasks.

If left untreated, ADHD can lead to an increased risk of contracting Covid-19. A study done by the Journal of Attention Disorders involving 14,022 people in Israel found that people with untreated ADHD were 52% more likely to contract Covid-19 compared to people who did not have ADHD. They suggest that ADHD symptoms such as forgetfulness, risky behavior, and lack of focus could explain the increased risk of contraction.

The pandemic has negatively impacted children with ADHD as well. Jinsong Zhang, from Xinhua Hospital Affiliated to Shanghai Jiao Tong University School of Medicine found during the pandemic, children’s ADHD symptoms became significantly worse during a lockdown. Two-thirds experienced a significant rise in angry outbursts, and 56% of the children failed to stick to their daily routines or remain focused. The increase in stressors because of the pandemic can create greater risks for depression.

5. Suicide

Even though the rate of suicides has declined globally, that is not the case for this country. Suicides have increased during the pandemic. In fact, according to the CDC, one in four adults from ages 18 to 24 have considered suicide because of the pandemic. Physicians have the highest rates of suicide with approximately one doctor dying every day—more than twice the general population.

Anxiety and hopelessness combined with bereavement of loved ones lost and fears of contracting the virus and lack of healthcare services have all taken their toll. Not surprising, studies show there was a marked increase in suicides after the Spanish Flu of 1918.

What can be done?

The pandemic has taken a toll on our physical and mental well-being. Studies have shown the impact on our mental health may last well into the future. So, what are we to do about it? We can take steps now to alleviate some of the stressors caused by the pandemic.

5 Ways Covid-19 Affects Our Mental Health

Photo by Tomas Anunziata on Pexels

In the meantime, it’s important to recognize the silver lining in the dark clouds. This pandemic has allowed us to slow down and focus on the things that are important in our lives. People who go through hard times tend to become more resilient and find inner and outer strength they never knew existed.

This pandemic won’t last forever. Yet, experts warn that its effects could linger. That’s why now is the time to address any mental health issues you may be experiencing. You can come through this pandemic happier and healthier than ever before.

If you find yourself struggling to cope during the pandemic, and you’d like to talk to someone, please call us at 718-577-2583 to set up a free 15-minute consultation. All American Psychiatric Practice. We’re here to help you.


5 Ways Covid-19 Affects Our Mental Health

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