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The Mental Health Consequences of Physical Distancing

COVID-19 has led to unprecedented times, which is why researchers continue to collect data in order to understand the true consequences. Social distancing is of particular interest in regard to mental well-being, as quarantine and isolation measures have had a significant social and economic impact.  

While physical distancing has been an effective strategy to reduce the spread of COVID-19, benefiting the public’s physical health, the resulting consequences of isolation on mental health are not yet fully understood. From job losses to school closures, reduced social contact to a loss of key community resources, the research continues to pile — and the results are somewhat troublesome.  

Psychological Distress Is Being Reported Around the Globe  

COVID-19 is not a local or even national phenomenon — it’s a global crisis.   

As reported in a recent Washington Post article, “the coronavirus pandemic is pushing a mental health crisis, and the U.S. is ill-prepared.” It is believed that a historic wave of mental-health problems is approaching, ranging from substance abuse to PTSD, anxiety to depression.  

There are concerns that untreated suffering will result on a large scale. 

Based on a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll, nearly half of Americans said that COVID-19 is harming their mental health. As researchers continue to collect data and analyze studies from previous disasters, the results will likely cast a shadow of warning. Mental health experts are hopeful that these warnings will lead to action.  

The Current Research on Physical Distancing and Mental Health 

Numerous studies have already revealed the potential impact of social distancing and isolation on mental health, including the following:

  • A UK-based study revealed that COVID-19 may already be causing significant negative impacts on people’s mental health and well-being. The researchers concluded that a rapid response is needed. Based on their findings, it is also uncertain how long the public will adhere to social distancing and isolation measures.
  • The research suggests that the mental health effects of COVID-19 are hitting people of all ages. While researchers continue to study the impact that loneliness has on older adults, there are also concerns regarding millennials. Prior to the virus, this group was already suffering from declining mental health — and current quarantine measures are expected to exacerbate feelings of anxiety and depression. According to a Morning Consult survey, to cope, although 16 percent of U.S. adults say that they have been drinking more, 25 percent admit that they have turned to alcohol in order to cope. 
  • The latest research from Express Scripts shows that there’s been a 34 percent increase in anti-anxiety medication prescriptions between mid-February and mid-March. 

A Silver Lining 

While dozens of studies showcase a rising trend in mental health issues due to social distancing and isolation, there has been one unexpected positive impact — the rapid growth of telehealth services. Previous barriers are being broken down, largely due to social distancing. For example, in the past, most telehealth services were not covered by insurance — not to mention a lack of consumer awareness. In March, restrictions were waived on Medicare for telehealth services, including emergencies during COVID-19 and mental health services. 

Read more: Increased Virtual Mental Health Support Is Needed in Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic 

If you or someone you love is suffering in silence, please do not hesitate to seek help. 

We also recommend that you stay up-to-date with our COVID-19 resources

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