By ANA-SOFIA MUÑOZ
The symptoms of this pandemic include illness, isolation and information overload.
As of late March, the United States and the majority of other nations around the world have implemented shutdowns and executive orders requiring residents to remain indoors and avoid large gatherings for the time being. These declarations mandating social distancing have been put into place due to the rapidly rising number of coronavirus cases across the globe, in one of the most severe pandemics within recent years. Everyday, daily updates regarding new coronavirus cases and world leaders’ hasty attempts to contain the virus flood the news. The pandemic at hand has also had countless effects on an unprecedented number of people in nearly every aspect of life.
Yet, with the focus on the impact of the virus on various facets of life, one aspect of our wellbeing has been largely neglected by the media: mental health.
Currently, this pandemic is proving to be unlike anything the world has ever seen. As a result, it is affecting individuals in a myriad of unexpected ways.
For many, being forced into isolation from things like friendly gatherings, family, work, school and even just being able to go out in public has had an incredibly adverse effect on individuals’ mental health. With most clambering to cope with the sudden lack of routine and abrupt life changes, there has been an overall decline in their mental health. As a whole, given the present circumstances, it is more important than ever that we make it a point to prioritize our mental health in the same way that we prioritize our physical health.
Presently, the sheer amount of negative information flooding the news—from the growing death toll of the virus to the possibility of quarantine extending further into the year—has led many people to feel powerless when presented with these tragic circumstances. As a result, people find themselves feeling anxious and depressed, among a variety of other negative emotions.
Reportedly, evidence of the collectively diminishing nationwide mental health in the United States can be seen in the massive influx of calls by various crisis helplines like the Disaster Distress Helpline. The federal crisis helpline is run by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and serves to provide free, anonymous help to those struggling with emotional distress during crises. According to CNN, the helpline witnessed a 338% increase in calls in March as compared to calls in February; in comparison to March of 2019, there has been an astounding 891% increase in calls. Clearly, the general public is feeling the immense amount of stress that has manifested as a result of the quarantine.
To make matters worse, professionals such as health psychologist Dr. Dana Garfin of University of California, Irvine predict that the effects of long-term social distancing could very likely extend well beyond the quarantine, resulting in things like collective trauma and even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
However, in spite of the current events, there are still actions that we can take to maintain our mental health and minimize the potential long-term effects of quarantine and social-distancing.
For example, Dr. Vaile Wright, the American Psychological Association’s director of clinical research and quality, states that it is important to create daily routines. Additionally, despite the present focus on remaining productive, professionals have concurred that we should not be too critical of the amount of work that we are able to produce and stay mindful of the constraints we are currently facing. Keeping in touch with friends and other loved ones can also help to lessen feelings of loneliness during this time.
Ultimately, if you are struggling to maintain your mental health during this time, various resources like the Disaster Distress Helpline, the U.S. Crisis Text Line and the National Suicide Prevention Hotline provide confidential assistance and are available twenty-four hours a day.
Although there may not be much we can do to change the dire circumstances taking place at the moment, it is important to remember that they are temporary and to reach out for help if you are in need of it.