During the first wave of the coronavirus infection, the unexpected arrival of a pandemic caused trauma in many people. It interrupted everyday routines, forced isolation or coexistence in confined spaces; for many it also coincided with the direct experience of illness and loss. But what happened next, after the first couple of months, is what truly shaped us. Last spring, we faced the emergency hoping that we could come out of the problem within a few weeks or a month maximum. But we have been living with Covid-19 for more than a year now, and this has left us with a chronic form of trauma.
As we already know, the pandemic has had significant psychological and social effects on the global population. The reactions have been different from one another, but feelings of anxiety and fear are what dominate. All this has contributed to creating a strong emotional distress, significantly worsening our mood, our insecurities, our fears, not only among those who have been directly affected by the pandemic but on everyone. The different lockdowns we experienced have influenced not only our daily life, but social life more in general, that is now no longer based on physical contact, but on distancing. In fact, we have noticed an ever greater distancing and disinterest from wanting to establish new relationships or from wanting to continue frequenting already consolidated friendships.
Factors such as social isolation, confinement at home and the weight of general uncertainty have contributed to a severe burden to the psychological balance of individuals. In this regard, a real syndrome has originated, called 'Long Covid' or 'Post-Covid', the consequences of which can last over time. For example, there is a sense of refusal to leave one's home, for fear of exposing oneself to possible threats, even after the end of the period of forced isolation, the so-called 'hut syndrome'. Other psychological implications of the pandemic are fear, insomnia, anxiety, mood alteration, depression, a sense of loneliness and stress. From some scientific research, significant data emerged that can be linked to loss of concentration at school, in the workplace, but also loss of interest. And in the worst cases all of this can lead to panic attacks, anxiety attacks or chronic stress.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, concerns about mental health and substance use have grown, including concerns about suicidal thoughts. According to the data, in January 2021, 41% of adults reported symptoms of anxiety and/or depressive disorder, a percentage that has previously been largely stable since Spring 2020. Suicide rates have long been on the rise but are worsened due to the pandemic. A longitudinal study has indeed found the rate of suicidal thoughts has increased during lockdown, especially among young adults. The study - funded by the Samaritans, the Scottish Association for Mental Health, and the Mindstep Foundation - discovered that the proportion of respondents reporting they had wanted to end their life increased from 8.2% to 9.2% and then to 9.8%, over the three waves of the study. These rates were highest in young adults (aged 18-29), rising from 12.5% to 14.4%.
As stated in the study, some of the most common concerns across young people have been uncertainty, fear and concerns about what the future holds, especially the impact of the ongoing restrictions on their work and education. The pressure to ‘do well’ in spite of these challenges is also affecting some young people’s wellbeing.
Then, obviously, there are concerns regarding the crippled economy and the aftermath of the Covid-recession. The economic impact of the pandemic has disproportionately fallen on young people. Research in early May suggested a third of young people lost their jobs or were furloughed – nearly twice the rate of older workers.
Covid-19 has increased mental health problems for many of us, and public health officials say the psychological fallout of the pandemic could unfold for months, or even years. In the UK, a group of leading public health specialists recently warned in the British Medical Journal that “the mental health impact of the pandemic is likely to last much longer than the physical health impact,” and Steven Taylor, author of The Psychology of Pandemics, and professor in psychiatry at the University of British Columbia, argues that “for an unfortunate minority of people, perhaps 10 to 15%, life will not return to normal”, due to the impact of the pandemic on their mental wellbeing.
Poor mental health not only affects psychological wellbeing but can also have a detrimental impact on physical health. Thus the effects of the pandemic on mental health could lead to a longer term erosion of people’s physical health, further affecting their ability to lead fulfilling lives.
If you are suffering from any of these psychological implications, seeking for help is the first step. If you are in a crisis and you need urgent help, you can contact 999 or NHS 111, ask for an emergency appointment at your GP or contact a local urgent mental health helpline. If you want to be a support to someone who is facing psychological problems here’s a guide on how to help.
Written by Miriam Tagini