The psychological effects of a pandemic are widespread. From the expected anxiety, fear, and uncertainty of not knowing how long the pandemic will last, or how damaging it will be, to the challenges of coping with social, vocational, and economic shifts, people’s lives have broadly been affected. Adding to this, social isolation removes the typical psychological resources that we expect during times of crisis and can lead to physical challenges which, of course, influence psychological functioning.
Humans, like all mammals, are meant to be social. Removing this fundamental component of life, not surprisingly, leads to many debilitating effects on mental health. In humans, it is often associated with post-traumatic stress disorder and depression – two outcomes that can be argued are related to an overly reactive alert system, feelings of lack of safety, and ultimately, adrenal exhaustion.
The Lancet published a review in February 2020 of 24 studies documenting the psychological impact of quarantine, offering a glimpse into what has been brewing in hundreds of millions of households around the world.
The review found that people who are quarantined are highly likely to develop a wide range of psychological symptoms, including low mood, insomnia, stress, anxiety, anger, irritability, emotional exhaustion, depression and post-traumatic stress symptoms. Low mood and irritability specifically stood out as being “very common.”
In cases where parents were quarantined with children, the mental health toll became even steeper. In one study, no less than 28% of quarantined parents warranted a diagnosis of “trauma-related mental health disorder.”
Among quarantined hospital staff, having been quarantined was the factor most predictive of symptoms of acute stress disorder and “quarantined staff were significantly more likely to report exhaustion, detachment from others, anxiety when dealing with febrile patients, irritability, insomnia, poor concentration and indecisiveness, deteriorating work performance, and reluctance to work or consideration of resignation.” It is also noteworthy that “health-care workers who had been quarantined had more severe symptoms of post-traumatic stress than members of the general public who had been quarantined, scoring significantly higher on all dimensions.”
It is this lack of interpersonal connection that should be considered as a mortality risk factor, much like physical inactivity, smoking, obesity, and lack of healthcare access. Research presented at the 125th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association found that loneliness and social isolation may now represent a greater public health hazard than obesity.
With the increase in social isolation and loneliness during this time, it’s more important than ever to check in our friends and loved ones, however we can – a quick phone call, video chat, dropping off food, etc. We need to look out for one another. 🙂
Course excerpt from:
COVID-19: Picking Up the Pieces is a 2-hour online continuing education (CE) course that examines the effects of the pandemic and the challenges we face moving forward.
This course will discuss the many aspects of COVID-19 that have affected us all, physically, psychologically, and economically. It will begin with a discussion of what pandemics are, and what differentiates COVID-19 from previous pandemics. We will then turn our attention to the psychological effects of a pandemic – from anxiety, fear, and uncertainty, economic and vocational challenges, to social isolation and the physical challenges that further compromise psychological adjustment. We will then look at the effects of starting over – from re-entry and reorganization to chronic anxiety, triggering, and even the stigma of being infected by or exposed to the virus.
Next, we will explore the ways in which the clinician can help the client. We will learn how shifting the client’s attitude toward adversity, introducing them to post-traumatic growth, and encouraging insight and reflection can promote psychological growth, even in times of psychological distress. The last section of this course consists of specific exercises the clinician can use with the client coping with COVID-19. Course #21-42 | 2020 | 39 pages | 15 posttest questions
Professional Development Resources is approved by the American Psychological Association (APA) to sponsor continuing education for psychologists. Professional Development Resources maintains responsibility for this program and its content. Professional Development Resources is also approved by the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC ACEP #5590); the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB Provider #1046, ACE Program); the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA Provider #3159); the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR Provider #PR001); the Alabama State Board of Occupational Therapy; the Florida Boards of Social Work, Mental Health Counseling and Marriage and Family Therapy (#BAP346), Psychology & School Psychology (#50-1635), Dietetics & Nutrition (#50-1635), and Occupational Therapy Practice (#34); the Georgia State Board of Occupational Therapy; the New York State Education Department’s State Board for Mental Health Practitioners as an approved provider of continuing education for licensed mental health counselors (#MHC-0135); the Ohio Counselor, Social Worker & MFT Board (#RCST100501); the South Carolina Board of Professional Counselors & MFTs (#193); the Texas Board of Examiners of Marriage & Family Therapists (#114) and State Board of Social Worker Examiners (#5678); and is CE Broker compliant (all courses are reported within a few days of completion).