by Vineeta Abraham, September 7, 2020
Over the past few months, we’ve heard this word used in almost every conversation or speech, and rightly so; COVID-19, coronavirus, the pandemic — however it is referred to, the mere idea of the event that took the country, and the world, by storm could have never been predicted or prepared for. Everyone was caught off guard, from healthcare providers to politicians, scrambling to provide any sort of assurance to the vast majority of Americans that we would be okay.
But would we?
In March 2020, everything seemed to shut down almost immediately. Stores were closing, restaurants were putting up “Closed Indefinitely” signs. Even colleges were forced to tell their residents — students who had started to carve their entire lives into their new homes in their college dorms — that they couldn’t live on campus anymore.
The change was not taken lightly.
Aside from the obvious results of the unexpected safety measures put into place — lack of preparedness for education, loss of jobs, a general frenzy for necessities, etc — hidden, deeply rooted problems began to unfold as the days of quarantining turned into weeks, then months, before everyone’s eyes.
Just one of these problems? Mental health.
The importance and benefits of staying home were extensive. COVID-19 was, and still remains to be, an incredibly dangerous virus with an extremely “wide range of symptoms, ranging from mild to lethal” (Katella). Since no one is “completely immune to the virus,” it’s hard to predict the extent to which this will go until it is no longer a concern (UCI Health). In order to contain the situation, social distancing was, and still is, a must.
However, people often ignore the very serious downsides of forcing people to stay in homes that they don’t want to be in, and not just because they miss their friends or going out to the mall.
As shocking as it might seem to some, mental health issues at home are still very prevalent in today’s society, and these were only amplified during the quarantine. Research following past quarantines, such as in Toronto in 2002, shows that people coming out of quarantine felt the effects of “social isolation” and even faced “longer-lasting psychological distress for around a month afterward,” in addition to “almost 29% of participants [displaying] PTSD symptoms, and 31.2% [showing] depressive symptoms” (“How Does Quarantine”). It’s safe to say that these and other effects may be seen when looking at the mental health of people who were expected to quarantine for close to five months.
In many cases, mental abuse in homes increased as well. The sudden lockdown led to increased tensions as parents began to “respond to their children’s anxious behaviors or demands in aggressive or abusive ways” as a result of increased stress (SAMHSA). Parents were under a lot of stress — stress about the virus, stress about their jobs, and stress coming from the lack of “extended family, child care and schools, religious groups and other community organizations” that they had relied on in the past (SAMHSA). Unfortunately, children and spouses—or other family members—were oftentimes the direct target of their frustration, leading to emotional, mental, and in some cases, physical abuse (SAMHSA). Worst of all, stay at home restrictions left the victims with nowhere else to go.
Even though some mental health patients were fortunate enough to have access to therapy through these trying times, it wasn’t nearly the same as what they had expected. In accordance with social distancing rules, “therapists and their patients turned to remote therapy using phones and web cams to continue their sessions,” a shift that presented a whole new array of challenges (Naftulin). While this new method might have been “convenient and accessible,” obstacles such as the “lack of body language reading as one could in an in person session” and general awkwardness for some patients made it difficult for communication to be what the patient or the therapist needed for successful treatment (“The Pros and Cons”). While technology certainly provided a temporary solution the problem, through the use of phone calls and video chatting, virtual therapy simply wasn’t the same as an in-person session.
It’s now September. Some states are beginning to see better days, like New York, where the rate of infection “has been less than 1% for 30 days — or an entire month” (News). Places are beginning to open up, slowly, and with great caution. People who were stuck at home, stuck inside with some of their worst struggles and thoughts, are slowly beginning to venture out again, filled with hope, or fear, or maybe a mix of both.
But the problem isn’t over. It’s up to all of us to make sure we don’t return to the state we were in just six months ago. The risks of staying at home are often overlooked in favor of public safety, but we can’t ignore the very real toll another quarantine would have on those suffering from mental health issues. If we’re not careful, we could be forcing people right back into their worst nightmares.
Stay smart. Wear your masks. Protect yourself, but also protect others.
Keep each other alive.
Find resources for coping with Mental Health through the pandemic here:
Cherry, Kendra. “How to Cope with Quarantine.” Verywell Mind, 7 Aug. 2020, www.verywellmind.com/protect-your-mental-health-during-quarantine-4799766
“The Pros and Cons of Online Therapy.” Verywell Mind, 11 May 2020, www.verywellmind.com/advantages-and-disadvantages-of-online-therapy-2795225
Katella, Kathy. “5 Things Everyone Should Know About the Coronavirus Outbreak.” Yale Medicine, 4 Sept. 2020, www.yalemedicine.org/stories/2019-novel-coronavirus/
Naftulin, Julia. “How to Get the Most out of Long-Term Virtual Therapy When You’re Living and Working from Home.” Insider, Insider, 4 May 2020, www.insider.com/how-to-do-longterm-virtual-remote-therapy-2020-4
News, Eyewitness. “Reopen NY: COVID Infection Rate Stays below 1 Percent for 30 Days.” ABC7 New York, WABC-TV, 6 Sept. 2020, abc7ny.com/reopen-new-york-ny-covid-19-coronavirus/6411561
SAMHSA. “Intimate Partner Violence and Child Abuse Considerations During COVID-19.” Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2020, www.samhsa.gov/sites/default/files/social-distancing-domestic-violence.pdf UCI Health.
“Why Is COVID-19 So Dangerous?” UCI Health , 29 Apr. 2020, www.ucihealth.org/blog/2020/04/why-is-covid19-so-dangerous