The coronavirus was officially declared an international emergency on March 11, 2020.
While it’s only been two years since our first weeks in quarantine, more than a few disturbing commonalities have already come to light: people are, statistically, angrier, more depressed, more stressed out, and much more anxious overall than they were before this large-scale public health disaster.
Any adult alive today probably won’t have to read the literature in order to understand why.
What does mental illness feel like post-pandemic?
For many Americans, COVID-19 is synonymous with all things negative: newfound unemployment and poverty, no parties, no travel, no restaurants, weeks alone at home, and less time connecting with friends and family face-to-face.
Children, in particular, already adjusting to life and growing constantly, have had a particularly rough time. Grief-like behavior has been observed formally in children affected by the pandemic, as have other problems like acute stress disorder and difficulty adapting to a newly-remote world.
In fact, The Guardian even found that calls to ChildLine, a helpline for children, rose dramatically just as the pandemic took on steam.
This alone is heartbreaking, but it’s far from the extent of the full picture. Those already struggling with mental illness across the boards—eating disorders, dementia, and even schizophrenia—have not only had more difficulty procuring the prescriptive and appropriate mental health care required to manage these disorders. They might actually be more susceptible to contracting COVID-19 than the average man or woman.
Finally, one other demographic of concern: the mental health of those who actually caught COVID-19 themselves, especially at the height of pandemic-mania. Social ostracization beyond the city-wide mandates, personal shame, the desire to avoid infecting those around them, fearfulness of death or severe illness, and worry for the consequences to come in terms of financial mobility have all been commonly self-reported as hindering personal wellness greatly.
Being stuck in quarantine, away from loved ones, only adds to these feelings of helplessness and hopelessness.
Symptoms of pandemic-related unwellness
Some of the tell-tale signs that you or a loved one may be struggling with pandemic-related depression or anxiety include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Fear of an uncertain future
- Loneliness by way of physical distancing
- Worry about one’s finances and survival
- Pervasive stress that impedes daily activity
- Difficulty sleeping, resting, or “turning off” at the end of the day
All of the above may either be exacerbated by outlying factors also associated with the pandemic—a reduction or a complete loss of income, for example, might further send a vulnerable individual into a deep depression, and may even compel them to gamble, drink excessively, or partake in other forms of dangerous, self-destructive patterns of behavior.
Limited access to healthcare has also been shown as being one major contributor to pandemic anxiety in many Americans, especially gender- and race-related inequities.
In so many ways, much of the blame for these trends is attributed to physical distancing mandates and other governmental lockdown measures that terraformed the average life significantly, and, in some cities, in literally days. Others believe individuals have suffered more as pandemic restrictions lifted the curtain on the banality and futility of modern domestic life.
More than anything, this significant downturn in personal wellness has been at the forefront of the argument in advocacy of mental health reform, not just in America, but throughout the entire world.
Is the answer a more accessible point of service? Better insurance? Or even just a finely-tuned attitude adjustment when it comes to the strategies that we employ against dysfunction?
It could very well be all of the above. Reckoning with this nuanced and nearly universal public health crisis is not only vital for the adults who have been impacted by the pandemic, but for the children and the adolescents whose lives have been so intimately disrupted by this global event.
A call for change and action
When the game-board has been upturned, there is no better time to lay out a brand-new game. Many experts contend that the time for mental health reform is now.
What does healthcare reform look like? A more deeply-integrated healthcare system, one that exists to serve, not to turn over a buck. With access and education inevitably comes empowerment, leading to better choices that perpetuate physical and intellectual well-being. Mostly, however, healthcare specialists simply want a national healthcare system equipped and prepared for the next outbreak one SARS-CoV-2’s level. COVID-19 hit us like a train.
While our healthcare system certainly lies at the root of the solution, we also believe deeply in the power of personal connection, community, and intrapersonal support. Now that the world is opening its doors once again, we’ll finally be able to pick up the broken pieces of the world that we lived our lives in before together.
If you or a loved one is struggling, there is always hope. Please contact your physician, a friend or member of your family, or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255 for support in times of need.