COVID-19 & Mental Health

 It goes without saying that people’s mental health has been put to the test by the endless lockdowns and many insecurities that have come along with the COVID-19 pandemic. The good news is, we have made some progress since the lockdown first started in March 2020, thanks to the vaccine. 

However, we are still not out of the woods yet, and as we emerge from what we hope will be the worst of it, many concerns and questions have been raised, one of which is, “How has COVID-19 affected people’s mental health? 

Even before the coronavirus pandemic, mental health was an area of concern, and for good reason. This is mainly because research has found that there’s a grave disparity in the number of people who die due to mental health-related issues and those who seek help. And the strict social distancing and lockdown restrictions have only exacerbated the situation. 

Throughout the pandemic-induced lockdown, people have reported a host of symptoms, such as headaches, upset stomachs, flare-ups, hair loss, and other symptoms, resulting in multiple visits by otherwise healthy individuals to doctors across Canada and North America. 

While all of these symptoms may seem unrelated, there is a raft of research that has been done on the relation between high levels of stress and autoimmune disorders, cardiovascular problems, and a host of other health conditions, which only tells us that this was bound to happen sooner or later. 

Now, after over a year in lockdown and social distancing restrictions due to COVID-19, the toll of the pandemic on mental health is starting to hit us like a tsunami. 

Surveys show a significant increase in people across all age groups who are experiencing mild or severe anxiety and depression, with a notable rise in individuals either reporting suicidal thoughts or showing suicidal tendencies. 

Highest Number of Young Adults Experiencing Anxiety and Depression 

According to studies, doctors and hospitals have reported that a higher proportion of young adults between the ages of 18 to 35 have been screened positive for depression between 2020 and 2021. During the same time period, almost 18% of adults between the ages of 25 and 44 have screened positive for at least one major depressive disorder. 

More Youngsters Feeling Lonely Than Ever Before 

By far, one of the more pronounced impacts of the coronavirus pandemic and the ensuing lockdowns and social distancing restrictions has been the higher number of youngsters who have reported feelings of loneliness or other seemingly unrelated health issues such as PTSD, Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD-7), and depression. 

During Spring of 2021, around 83% of young Canadians between the ages of 18 and 24 admitted to experiencing at least one of the negative mental health impacts mentioned above. Of those who were screened positive for these mental health disorders, 94% were certain that they were brought about due to COVID-19. 

It goes without saying that these assessments have amplified the negative toll that COVID-19 has on mental health, especially of younger adults. The COVID-19 pandemic has also resulted in many people, especially women, having a negative perception of the future in terms of employment, etc. According to research, a higher proportion of women (43%), as compared to men (31%), are pessimistic about their job security and their future in response to COVID-19. 

Different People React Differently to Stress 

The toll a stressful situation takes on an individual depends on several factors, including the person’s financial and social circumstances. While it is normal for one to feel distressed, sad, confused, worried, and even angry when experiencing a stressful situation such as the coronavirus pandemic, those individuals showing signs of severe emotional distress should seek immediate help. 

Some of the red flags of severe emotional distress include disabling fear, insomnia, an increase in drug or alcohol abuse, and interpersonal challenges. 

Tips to Fend Off Stress 

The good news is, there are ways in which those who are experiencing chronic stress or other related symptoms due to the pandemic can fend off stress and anxiety. 

Practicing Mindfulness and Meditation – There’s a raft of studies that indicate that making functional and structural changes in the brain can bring about positive results. 

Keep on Learning – Research shows that learning something new expands the brain. Being open to learning new things also increases brain plasticity, sharpens the mind, and improves one’s ability to change. 

Fostering Social Connections – While lockdowns and social distancing became the norm during the past year and a half (with some countries still imposing local lockdowns), it is important to stay connected with family and friends, even if it’s done virtually. 

Exercise – The positive effects of regular exercise and maintaining a balanced diet are undisputed and can help reduce inflammation in the body that’s caused due to stress. 

Seeking Professional Help – We all could use some help sometimes. If you feel like the stress and anxiety are too much, it’s okay to seek professional help. 

Ending Note 

As winter approaches, nearly 40% of Canadians say that they are experiencing a deterioration in their mental health when compared to the same time last year, with 61% unemployed, 61% of those with pre-existing mental issues, and almost half of women (44%) saying that they have witnessed a pronounced change in their mental health during the past year. 

What’s even more disturbing is a sharp increase in suicidal tendencies this fall, with one in 10 Canadians, or 10% of the population, having thoughts of suicide. It’s clear that there’s a clear correlation between declining mental health and the mother of all social stressors – COVID-19, and the lockdowns, restrictions, and job insecurities that come along with it. In times of distress, seeking professional help can make the difference between succumbing to suicidal thoughts or making it to the other side stronger than before. 

If you or someone you know is going through severe emotional distress or is showing signs of social withdrawal, now is the time to get the help and support needed from local resources, such as Hospall.