Why are mental health issues arising during the covid-19 pandemic?

Many things changed in the past year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of these changes were unanticipated, and the levels of anxiety were at an all-time high. The pandemic presented newer challenges, which were significant threats to the mental health of many people. Some of these challenges were the global economic downturn, lockdown directives, and massive cutbacks. The necessary lockdown rules also introduced new limitations to access healthcare and mental health services in particular. As such, many people’s mental health across the world took a big hit due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is no surprise that there has been a spike in the number of mental health cases in Canada and worldwide. 

Some of the reasons for the rising mental health issues during the pandemic include:

Fear and anxiety amidst rising job insecurity and economic downturn

With the pandemic came inevitable changes that threatened many people’s job security, leading to uncertainties about the future. With growing employment concerns, the rising cost of living despite worsening job security, and pay cuts, these uncertainties have brought about a lot of fear and anxiety. Reports show that since the pandemic began, up to half of Canadians have experienced worsening mental health from worry and anxiety. The situation was worse among workers as 4 in 5 complained of deteriorating mental health.

The workforce has been significantly affected by the pandemic in the past year. Although many jobs have since been recouped, about 2 million people lost their jobs in Canada within the first couple of months of the pandemic. Since the pandemic, it has also been more challenging to find a job. Depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem are commonly associated with job loss, particularly when drastic, as was the case with this pandemic. These may have led to an increase in suicide cases and increased rates of substance use disorder.

Combating measures leading to isolation and loneliness

In addition to job insecurity, social distancing and lockdown measures have contributed to the mental health crisis. From mild restrictions to curfews, lockdowns, and stay-at-home orders, provinces implemented measures to curb coronavirus transmission. These, inadvertently, keep people away from their loved ones and places where they take solace. Social isolation and loneliness contribute negatively to people’s mental health. 

The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic do not spare the mental health of children. The closure of schools and stay-at-home orders kept many children away from their peers and friends, leading to loneliness and boredom, which could be detrimental to children’s mental health. Some other children have been forced to be away from their parents/guardians while either parents/guardians are in isolation and recovering after contracting the infection. 

Although coronavirus incidence among children is less than in older people, the mental health impact from isolation is similarly disturbing. Some children have dealt with losing loved ones due to COVID-19.

Quarantines were also found to negatively impact mental health as the anxiety that accompanies fighting the disease all alone could be depressing.

Overwhelmed frontline health workers and essential workers

Rapidly spreading and equally deadly, the coronavirus pandemic put a lot of spotlight on frontline healthcare workers. They had to deal with a disease they barely knew a thing about. The increasing number of hospitalizations within a short time without a corresponding increase in healthcare workers and facilities put a lot of strain on healthcare workers. The number of workers available is still declining due to infected health workers and those who unfortunately lost their lives to the infection. To make up for this gap, many have to work extra hours and shifts. As a result, many healthcare workers experienced burnouts, which subsequently affected their mental health.

Essential workers were also not spared the effects of the pandemic. Despite adequate personal protective equipment and following safety measures they run the risk of exposure to the virus. 

Frontline health workers and other essential workers are more likely to be exposed to the virus. Many have contracted the infections, sometimes more than once, having to isolate and deal with the symptoms alone, separated from family and friends. The pandemic has also seen many healthcare workers’ deaths, most of whom contracted the virus in their line of duty. 

This stress also passes down to their loved ones, who always worry about their safety. They experience insomnia, loss of appetite, and sometimes, increased substance use.

Loss of loved ones or surviving Covid-19

The loss of lives is, perhaps, the most distressing aspect of the pandemic, and many were forced into unexpected grieving. Losing a loved one and grieving is one of the hardest emotions a person can experience. Grieving undoubtedly takes a toll on a person’s mental health. It could lead to depression, substance abuse, panic attacks, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and other mental health challenges. 

Furthermore, contracting and surviving COVID-19 is a strain on a person’s mental health. Besides emotional distress and PTSD, the infection affects the brain. It might cause brain complications such as delirium, agitation, insomnia, and stroke, which are mental health concerns. 

Increasing substance abuse and technology addiction

Many people now have a lot of time on their hands, unlike when they were busy with school, jobs, hobbies, or parties. With so much free time, people can now engage in activities that could positively or negatively impact their mental health. 

Many spend more time on their phones or have their eyes glued to the television. It almost seems like a wave of technology addiction is brewing. This is a mental health concern, especially for young kids and adolescents.

The pandemic also affects people with substance use problems. Many are cut off from their supply and might experience withdrawal symptoms, which they may not be able to handle without professional care. People recovering from addiction on a sobriety journey are also unable to attend physical group meetings and therapy. Without those necessary support systems, they might struggle harder to remain clean. Hence, this pandemic has seen a lot of relapses. This is beside the number of new cases trying to cope with the stress the pandemic has brought.

Disrupted access to mental health services

Despite the rising need for mental health services during this pandemic, many people cannot have adequate access to these services when they need them for several reasons. One of them is that more attention is placed on fighting the pandemic with limited resources for other situations. 

Also, there have been major disruptions to essential and emergency mental health services, including mental health services for the vulnerable (children, adolescents, and pregnant/postnatal women), counseling and therapy, critical harm reduction services, and access to medications. Most school and workplace mental health services became inaccessible.

The spike in mental health problems is also higher than the available resources and facilities. This means many people with mental health problems cannot seek help or do not get quality mental health care.

Conclusion

In summary, the COVID-19 pandemic impacted many things globally, especially mental health. The resulting spike in mental health issues is due to global economic problems, job insecurity, anxiety, loss of a loved one, contracting the virus, isolation, and loneliness, overwhelmed frontline health workers and essential workers, substance use and technology addiction, and disruption of mental health services. 

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