The good news: change is coming as more people get vaccinated and the world opens up. Now, the downside: COVID-19’s effects on our mental health might be here to stay.
From June 2019 to December 2020, the number of Americans reporting symptoms of anxiety, depression, or both roughly quadrupled. And to make matters worse: that rate was higher for women than men. It’s too early to predict how the pandemic will affect us all long-term, but data from other catastrophic events might give us a glimpse into the future. Studies of survivors from other health catastrophes (like SARS and Ebola) and disasters (like Chernobyl, 9/11, and Hurricane Katrina) showed elevated rates of mental health issues, in some cases lasting for more than a decade.
It’s important to note that mental health diagnoses are never one-size-fits-all, and every individual will have their own concerns and care regimen. Our guide’s not a diagnostic tool (or a substitute for meeting with a medical pro), but rather a space to explore and understand what you may be feeling.
Here's how COVID-19 may continue to affect your mental health.
A symptoms spike is normal right now. Life-threatening situations, like a pandemic, can put anxiety symptoms on overdrive, and patients may have to work harder to return to baseline.
Certain disorders are particularly vulnerable to the current situation. People diagnosed with OCD might especially need mental health treatment, given that symptoms often include frequent hand-washing and a fear of germs.
The answer to this one seems like an obvious “yes.” But some people — whether because of job loss or distance from family — have experienced more social isolation than others. No surprise here: isolation can make you feel lonely.
Loneliness and social isolation (pandemic norms) have long been associated with increased risk of mental health disorders. The repercussions can ripple through the body, too.
“Coronosomnia,” or insomnia from pandemic stress and anxiety, is also at a high.
While older people are at a higher risk of severe physical illness with COVID-19, data shows that younger people are more likely to exhibit symptoms of depression and anxiety related to the pandemic.
Try stepping outside and phoning a friend (rather than scrolling your feed). Studies have shown that Vitamin D (through sun and supplements) may help fight depression. And placing a good old fashioned phone call (no need to Zoom) can make you feel less isolated.
Mental health side effects may be even more pronounced for those who were diagnosed with COVID-19. One study showed that nearly 20 percent of COVID-19 patients developed a new mental health issue — like depression, anxiety, insomnia, or dementia — within three months of a COVID-19 diagnosis.
COVID-19 “long-haulers” (those who experience lingering effects of the virus months after diagnosis, even if they weren’t ever hospitalized) may experience neurological side effects that, in some cases, resemble those of concussions or traumatic brain injuries. That includes brain fog, headaches, numbness, tingling, and dizziness.
A small number of COVID-19 patients have also experienced psychosis.
Now, some in the U.S. health care system are trying to take specific action to help long-term patients get better. Clinics are popping up around the country with the explicit goal of treating COVID-19 long-haulers and studying the effects of the virus.
You’re not alone. According to the American Psychological Association, about 50% of people reported feeling anxious about in-person interactions once things return to “normal.” That number was higher for people of color.
We’re creatures of habit. Some of us tend to prize the familiar over the unfamiliar, and pandemic life has strangely become the familiar...and, for some, pretty comfortable.
Insert awkward turtle. Everyone’s feeling a little socially weird right now. Whether you consider yourself extroverted or a homebody, we’re all rusty when it comes to socializing. Expect newfound or exacerbated social anxiety.
We’re still learning about the precautions people should take after getting fully vaccinated. Here are the CDC’s current guidelines for peace of mind.
The “new normal” might not look like the old normal — especially when it comes to your mental health. Prioritize what works for you as we all ease back into a version of the Before Times, and don’t be afraid to seek help from a medical professional if you need it.
Skimm'd by Becky Murray, Avery Carpenter Forrey, and Jane Ackermann
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