Stress, worry, and fear are normal responses to real or perceived threats, and when faced with the unknown. According to the World Health Organization, it is understandable that people are experiencing fear caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. Aside from the fear of contracting the coronavirus, the restricted movements, temporary unemployment, lack of physical contact with other family members and friends, new realities of working from home, and home-schooling of children could lead to mental health fallout.
Mental health and Covid-19
Dr. Konstantinos Petsanis, who specializes in general cognitive disorders and dementia, explained that just the fact that someone is wondering if he is positive for Covid-19 or not is like having a stigma. The thought that something is threatening his life can affect his behavior. We also know that panic can lead to bad behavior, psychosomatic problems, and brings somatic problems very easily. This is why we need to be delicate and careful with how we are handling things, he added.
A new study conducted by Matthias Pierce, Ph.D., and colleagues also said that young people, women, and those with small children are the groups who saw their mental health worsen significantly more than others. Dr. Pierce is a Research Fellow in Psychology and Mental Health at the University of Manchester.
Dr. Pierce and the team surveyed the mental health of study participants using 12 questions, which comprise people’s difficulties with concentration, decision making, sleep, and their emotional state. It also asked whether they were feeling overwhelmed or strained. A value between zero and four was then assigned to their answers. Higher scores indicate worse mental health and all scores were added together to show an overall measure of their mental health.
The researchers likewise apply a separate scoring system to the participants’ answers to determine whether they were showing signs of psychological distress or that if their distress was high enough that they need medical help. They found that many well-known and common mental health inequalities existed in the middle of quarantine. For example, women showed worse mental health compared to men. Women’s mean score was 13.6 whereas men 11.5. One-third of women participants also had clinically high levels of distress than one-fifth of men.
The result shows that mental health also tends to get worse based on their income. The lowest fifth of earners in the study had an average mental health score of 13.9 and 32% of them showed clinically significant levels of distress, Dr. Pierce and co-author Prof. Kathryn Abel shared. On the other hand, the highest fifth of earners among the participants had an average score of 12.0 and 26% of them showed high levels of distress.
Average mental health score
Although the study showed the importance of mental health, it did not exactly tell the authors what the pandemic effects had been. What they know is that the average mental health score this year is worse compared to the previous year. In the financial year 2018-2019, the average mental health score was 11.5 but it now increased to 12.6 this year. They also saw a significant number of people showing clinical levels of distress in April.
The authors also reviewed the participant’s pre-pandemic answers in 2014. Their findings suggest that the pandemic did affect the participants’ mental health. The UK Household Longitudinal Study is an ongoing survey of more than 40,000 households that started in 2009. These participants were the ones first invited to complete the first wave of the Covid-19 web survey. The team also conducted a sensitivity analysis to check the potential seasonality effects, considering that pre-Covid-19 data were gathered year-round.
They also found that young people, aged 18 to 24, were the most affected with an increase of 2.7 overall mental health score. The team predicted that the fear of coronavirus caused was the driver of poor mental health. The pandemic could also disproportionately affect people with underlying health conditions and key workers.
As to the mental health deterioration in women and those with young children points to the difficulty of managing their domestic load while they are at home. They said that having reliable support from family members, friends, and paid childcare lessen the impact but the lockdown and social restrictions abruptly cut off most of these supports that women and those with young children can rely on.
Share of persons worried about their mental health because of Covid-19
Statista published that starting March 23, some 31% of people in Germany, 41% in the UK, and 27% in the US are already worried about their mental health because of the Covid-19 pandemic. As of May 31, the share of persons worried about their mental health is as follows: 22% in Germany, 33% in the UK, and 28% in the US.
The American Psychological Association also shares a report on stress in the time of Covid-19. When selected US adults were asked to rate their stress level in general, their average reported stress is 5.4. It is significantly higher than the 4.9 average stress level in 2019. The common parental sources of stress as a result of the pandemic were the following: a family member getting coronavirus (74%), government response to Covid-19 (74%), disrupted routines or adjusting to the new routines (74%), getting coronavirus (73%), managing distance or online learning for their child(ren) (71%), basic needs, such as housing and food (70%), self-isolation (67%), access to health care services (66%), and missing out on major milestones (63%).
Recently, the International Labor Organization also published a report, which highlights that half of the world’s youth population is subject to depression-causing circumstances and anxiety. More than a third of them are uncertain of their future career prospects due to the pandemic. It said that pandemic impacts youths’ education, jobs, rights, and mental well-being. If urgent action is not taken, they are the group of people who will be more at risk of suffering severe and long-lasting adverse impacts from the pandemic. The severe disruption to working and learning, aggravated by the health crisis has caused deterioration in the mental well-being of young people the most.
Mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) is truly an important component of public health response to the pandemic.