While quarantine might be the only source of safety and the last glimmer of hope we have to containing the spread of the coronavirus, scientific studies over the years have shown that isolation and social distancing can be toxic for our mental health.
Some research shows that our fear and frustration of getting infected, combined with the shift in our daily routines, makes us mentally vulnerable to many negative emotional reactions.
According to Rana Sbeity, a clinical psychologist and a supervisor and trainer at Embrace, 502 calls were recorded on the Embrace LifeLine in March. This indicates an increase by approximately 150 calls than the average that Lebanon’s first National Emotional Support and Suicide Prevention Helpline usually receives.
The American Psychological Association states that the lack of social engagement, financial instability, and other constraints can increase our risk of stress disorders.
As mentioned by Sbeity, the stressful situation we are dealing with is disrupting our daily life and routine. This, in turn, might result in an expected and understandable increase in levels of anxiety and stress symptoms. According to the mental health expert, if these symptoms last for more than two weeks and disrupt the daily function of the individual, they should consider seeking mental health services.
“People who have certain psychological factors or suffer from preexisting mental health conditions are at a higher risk of having a mental health disorder during this phase,” said Sbeity.
“While people react differently to stressful situations, there are typical reactions that we expect including symptoms of anxiety, post-traumatic stress disease, feeling of anger, frustration, loneliness, and symptoms of depression such as low mood, decreased energy level, concentrating difficulties, appetite change, and sleep difficulties,” she explained.
When it comes to people who are infected with COVID-19, they might suffer from stigmatization by their surroundings because of the fear of contracting the illness.
Additionally, the effect of media on our well-being at this time is not to be questioned, as The World Health Organization warned people about the feeling of frustration they might experience because of being bombarded with daily news reports about the outbreak.
Things can also go further. An article about the psychological impact of quarantine published in The Lancet in February highlighted research where suicide cases were reported as a result to previous outbreaks.
“In the case of a pandemic, and due to certain psychological factors and predispositions that someone might have, the increase in risk factors along with the extreme changes some people are undergoing, and the decrease in their ability to cope with the harsh conditions, may increase the likelihood of a mental health disorder which could possibly lead to an increase in suicide cases,” explained Sbeity.
On the other hand, some researchers have succeeded in finding and highlighting the bright side of anxiety. As reported in Today, “It’s OK to have that moment of panic because, in a way, if you can move beyond that, you can start taking adequate precautions,” said Dr. Kelli Harding, an assistant professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center in New York.
It’s true that compulsive hand-washing has become normal as a repercussion of the COVID-19 pandemic, but how is this harsh situation affecting people with existing mental health disorders?
Given that the COVID-19 can live for a certain time on surfaces and can be easily transmitted by touching your face with unwashed hands, strict hygiene measures have become an additional source of stress. Being constantly worried about contracting the illness to ourselves and our families is burdening us with new preventive habits and precautions that are nourishing our fear and frustration.
And this whole situation could be exposing people who suffer from Obsessive-Compulsive disorder to unique challenges. “People who have mental health disorders such as OCD, might be experiencing a worsening of symptoms, and loss of control,” Sbeity told Beirut Today, “And an increase in the severity of these symptoms can trigger feelings of hopelessness, depression, as well as suicidal thoughts in some cases.”
“My whole routine has changed. I no longer feel comfortable being close to my family members. I also tend to sit in one place all the time to avoid the transmission of any infection or bacteria, and I make sure to sterilize any object before touching it, ” Adham Hatoum, a 21-year-old suffering from an Obsessive-Compulsive disorder.
“This pandemic has worsened the issue and pushed me to become even more precautious than before” he said.
In the midst of this chaotic situation and hoping to help people get through this phase with minimal damage, the World Health Organization provided people in isolation with helpful tips to cope with COVID-19.
Through their article, they shed lights on the significant role that using social media to keep in touch with your loved ones plays during this phase. Additionally, they discuss the importance of maintaining a healthy routine through engaging in healthy activities such as exercising at home, consuming healthy food, and keeping regular sleep routines.
To learn more about the pandemic, keep track of the latest updates, and minimize the discomfort felt because of rumors, people are advised to limit their news consumption to trusted sources, such as the WHO website.
If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts, please call the Embrace Lifeline on 1564.