Coronavirus Is More Than Just A Respiratory Disease
some measures that we can take to protect ourselves and people around us.
The spread a novel, unique virus is presenting challenges on an individual and population level. Although different, this virus behaves like many others in the past (e.g. SARS).
The response to the SARS outbreak in 2003 formed the basis of many strategies we have been using to protect ourselves and informs research in response to this global pandemic. As a result of public health efforts, SARS was contained by May 2004.
It wasn’t long after this ‘success’ when we realised the aftermath of the SARS outbreak. In July 2004, several scientists conducted a study in Toronto to investigate the psychological impacts of quarantine using self-reported questionnaires.
Of 129 participants, 28.9% of participants displayed symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and 31.2% of depression.
Cut-off points used to judge severity of symptoms were based on observations made in journalists who worked in war zones and psychiatric patients. They also found an association between length of time spent in quarantine and severity of PTSD symptoms.
All respondents reported feelings of isolation, especially when social and physical contact with family members were being discussed.
This feeling was enhanced by the restriction of not being able to commute to work, carrying out daily activities, and see their friends. In some cases, self-monitoring of temperature was described as anxiety provoking. These results suggest distress in people that were quarantined during the virus outbreak.
Perhaps isolation itself (without exposure to the virus) could be enough to cause a trauma.
It is important to note that self-reported questionnaires are insufficient to make a diagnosis.
However, these results provide important implications on the psychological and social consequences towards managing a pandemic, therefore identifying the increased risk of PTSD and depressive symptoms is more important than the confirmed diagnosis of the diseases.
It is without a doubt that social distancing and quarantine have tremendous effects of reducing spread of COVID-19, however, the psychological effects of the virus is something that we will have to face for a long period of time.
It would be fair to use previous large-scale disruptive events to explore how such events can affect our mental health. A group of researchers reviewed studies on the effects of collective actions on mental health outcomes.
They discovered that the prevalence of PTSD and depression after protests and riots exhibit similar patterns to those experienced following natural disasters. In the case of natural disasters, threat to health influences mental health outcomes. However, the data suggests that non-violent collective actions can also exert a substantial impact on mental health.
There is a possible “spillover effect” where the global population can be directly and indirectly affected by COVID-19 due to anxiety over the virus.
Although not all of us will suffer the physical consequences of contracting coronavirus, its social and psychological implications may remain throughout the population for a prolonged period of time.
Here are some measures that we can take to protect ourselves and people around us:
(1) Rely on trustworthy sources for information about the progression of the virus
Make sure that your source facts are providing you with accurate, updated information on what’s going on in your country. Public health organisations, health experts, and the news are great places to start. Using social media and messaging applications may result in receiving misinformation.
(2) Protect those at risk of stress
We need to watch out for people with pre-existing mental health conditions such as anxiety (e.g. GAD, OCD, panic disorders) and depression. This is an essential time to stay in touch with them, ask them how they are doing, and provide emotional support if possible.
(3) Support the mental health of our frontline workers
Doctors, nurses, and other frontline workers are experiencing extreme distress and potential burnout as a result of this pandemic.
We should show our support and appreciation for what they are doing to save lives during this difficult time. More importantly, we should adhere to the government’s guidelines to minimise the risk of exponential growth of the virus. By doing so, we minimise spread as well as reduce stress of those who are working on the frontline.
There is no doubt that social distancing and quarantine is difficult, but it is important to realise that we are all in this together. By staying connected with people we love, we will be looking out for our own psychological wellbeing, as well as others. Perhaps by doing more now, we can minimise what is yet to come.
Originally published on medium.