This global pandemic has drastically changed the world and our lives, and it’s still not done. While we’re battling to put a stop to it with preventive measures and vaccine research, the pandemic is putting a huge strain on our mental health. And according to a new study, COVID-19 patients are more at risk.
COVID-19 patients more vulnerable
According to a study done by researchers at the University of Oxford, nearly one person in every five diagnosed with COVID-19 were also diagnosed with a mental disorder within three months. The researchers used electronic health records for 69.8 million patients in the United States, which included records of more than 62,000 patients diagnosed with COVID-19. They say that COVID-19 patients were more likely to be diagnosed with a mental disorder compared to patients diagnosed with other health issues, such as influenza or bone fractures.
The common psychiatric diagnoses
These patients were diagnosed not only with anxiety or depression, but also insomnia and, in some extreme cases, dementia, a brain impairment disorder that is usually irreversible.
It’s true that a huge percentage of the world’s population are experiencing anxiety due to the ongoing global health crisis. But the anxiety in this research pertains to an actual anxiety disorder, which is more serious. The study found that among the many types of anxiety disorders, the most commonly diagnosed ones were adjustment disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and to a lesser extent, post-traumatic stress disorder and panic disorder.
This may be largely due to psychological stressors, but can also be a physical effect of COVID-19
At least according to other mental health specialists. The study itself hasn’t concluded the why’s behind the diagnoses, since there were a lot of variables in the research. However, University College London consultant psychiatrist Michael Bloomfield, who was not directly involved in the research, said there is growing evidence that COVID-19 may have an effect on the mind, thus increasing the risk of psychiatric illness. “This is likely due to a combination of the psychological stressors associated with this particular pandemic and the physical effects of the illness,” he told Reuters.
And this isn’t only a one-way street
Just like how those diagnosed with COVID-19 are more likely to be diagnosed with a mental disorder (about 81% chance), people with a psychiatric diagnosis were also more likely to be diagnosed with COVID-19 (about 65% chance). Since the study had controlled factors, the reason behind this is still not clear. And yet, this observation was consistent throughout the research. It is also supported by another study, which found out that there is an increased risk of infection in people with a psychiatric diagnosis.
Further studies are underway
There are more studies being conducted to determine the impact of COVID-19 on the brain. One such study explores the neurological and neuropsychiatric complications of COVID-19. Another shared results of their observation of COVID-19 patients in the UK, with experiences ranging from brain inflammation to nerve damage and stroke. Other researchers are looking into what COVID-19 patients are referring to as brain fog, a blanket term for symptoms that include migraine and difficulty thinking.
On the opposite side of the spectrum is “post-traumatic growth”
While there are those develop mental disorders after getting a COVID-19 diagnosis, there are those who react in a completely different way — with gratitude and appreciation.
“We’re seeing a lot of gratefulness,” Lauri Pasch, a University of California San Francisco clinical psychologist, told NPR, “that feeling that friends and family were there for them in a way that they didn’t expect, and feeling really grateful for that. Feeling like celebrating life.”
She and her colleagues call this “post-traumatic growth” with patients saying things like “I feel like I get a second chance at life” and “I’m going to make myself a better person.”
WHO calls for investment in mental health
With the increase of studies on the correlation of mental health with COVID-19, as well as the general anxiety experienced by most of the world, the World Health Organization — along with their partners United for Global Mental Health and the World Federation for Mental Health — is calling for a massive scale-up in investment in mental health.
This involves, but is not limited to, WHO’s mass promotion and celebration of a World Mental Health Day last September, the issuance of campaigns featuring things like considerations to support mental and psychological well-being during the pandemic; tips for maintaining mental health while stuck at home; and the release of guides for what to do when stressed.
How can you ease it?
One of the most important things to coping with anxiety during this pandemic is to acknowledge that yes, it is normal to feel fear and anxiety during this difficult time. Talk to someone about what you’re feeling, and this will likely reduce your worry and distress. Limit how much news and updates on the pandemic you consume each day, especially because constantly keeping an eye and an ear on the news is sure to make you more anxious.
When you’re feeling overwhelmed, you might be more inclined to withdraw from your usual routine and from people. But if you can, look for motivation in the activities you enjoy. Find joy in the little things to help yourself and your mental health.
Don’t cut yourself off and maintain connections. This is especially important for those diagnosed with COVID-19. Staying in touch with loved ones through messages or video/audio calls can help them through the difficult isolation period. And remember that this could be an opportunity for ‘post-traumatic growth’ as well.
How are you feeling today?