Could COVID-19 Cause Long-Term Mental Health Effects?

COVID-19 has created a wave of psychosocial considerations, leaving mental health experts concerned about the future — especially among those who are most vulnerable.

Researchers believe that the impact of lockdown measures and COVID-19 itself may cause long-term mental health effects. Based on the research from previous outbreaks, as well as data from recent polls and studies, the current pandemic will likely cause profound, long-term impacts on mental well-being.

Here’s what we know.

The Mental Health Impact of COVID-19 Must Not Be Ignored

As reported by the BMJ on May 5, 2020, the mental health impact of COVID-19 is believed to last significantly longer than the physical impact. To date, a lot of attention has been placed on mental health. However, the majority of available resources have focused on immediate, short-term concerns.

Physical distancing measures have led to the psychological impacts of social and economic variables, yet there are also a number of unintended impacts that will also likely follow, including an increase in domestic violence, cyberbullying, and child maltreatment. The anticipated “new type of economic recession” will also likely intensify mental health complications.

Christopher Ruhm, a professor of public policy and economics at the University of Virginia’s Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy said, “Mental health has been traditionally under-emphasized relative to physical health, partially because it is much harder to measure.” However, he believes that mental health will gain more attention in the COVID-19 recession and that based on the unique nature of the upcoming recession, people will likely be less stigmatized by unemployment.

Related: The Mental Health Implications of School Closures During COVID-19

In addition, during these high-stress, uncertain times, coping strategies may lead to detrimental outcomes, as rates of drug and alcohol misuse are expected to rise. There are also significant concerns surrounding the risk for PTSD among vulnerable groups, including those with preexisting mental health vulnerabilities and frontline workers.

What Are the Expected Long-Term Implications of COVID-19?

At this point in time, there are still a lot of unanswered questions.

In terms of physical health, researchers believe that patients with COVID-19 who develop acute respiratory distress syndrome may face a greater risk of long-term health complications. It has also been reported that impaired lung function from COVID-19 may affect the brain, heart, kidneys, and other organs, with effects that last longer than the infection itself.

Those requiring intensive care are also facing an increased risk for mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, and PTSD — not to mention those who are working alongside patients in intensive care units.

As recently reported in the Guardian, psychologists and doctors across the UK have warned that long after lockdown measures are lifted, thousands of Britons will continue to suffer — a trend that is being reported around the world. COVID-19 has resulted in a global trauma unlike any other we have experienced. In the past, following a natural disaster, people look to one another for support and comfort — but in this case, the people that surround you are the threat.

As reported on May 12, 2020, researchers from the University of New South Wales will conduct an international study to track the combined psychological impacts of the current pandemic, social isolation, and existential threat. The goal is to discover who is most at risk. Participants will be recruited from the UK, the United States, and Australia.

Some key areas of interest will be:

  • The impact on young individuals, who prior to the pandemic were in a development period as they worked towards greater independence.
  • The extent of online activities and engagement with peers in a virtual space — and how well people have transitioned to an online social environment.
  • Pregnancy and the consequences of this epidemic on the mother and child.
  • Mood and social circumstances before and after the pandemic.

If you or someone you love is currently suffering from mental health issues, it is important to take action. You are not alone.

In order to help guide you through these difficult times, you may also check out more COVID-19 resources here.

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