Another Take: Mental health in the COVID-19 pandemic

Cullen et al. (1) reported that despite the occurrence of emotional distress and social disorder during a pandemic, resources are typically not provided to manage or attenuate pandemics’ effects on mental health and wellbeing. Psychological reactions to pandemics include maladaptive behaviors, emotional distress and defensive responses (1,2).  People who are prone to psychological problems are especially vulnerable. They reported on a study (3) which found  that 54% of respondents rated the psychological impact of the COVID-19 outbreak as moderate or severe; 29% reported moderate to severe anxiety symptoms; and 17% reported moderate to severe depressive symptoms (1,3). They wrote: 

  1. people with pre-existing mental health and substance use disorders will be at increased risk of infection with COVID-19, increased risk of having problems accessing testing and treatment and increased risk of negative physical and psychological effects stemming from the pandemic.
  2. anticipate a considerable increase in anxiety and depressive symptoms among people who do not have preexisting mental health conditions, with some experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder in due course.
  3. it can be anticipated that health and social care professionals will be at particular risk of psychological symptoms, especially if they work in public health, primary care, emergency services, emergency departments and intensive or critical care.

Cullen et al. (1) reported there are several steps that can and should be taken now to minimize the psychological and psychiatric effects of the COVID-19 pandemic:

  1. it might be ostensibly attractive to re-deploy mental health professionals to work in other areas of healthcare, this should be avoided.
  2. targeted psychological interventions for communities affected by COVID-19, particular supports for people at high risk of psychological morbidity, enhanced awareness and diagnosis of mental disorders (especially in primary care and emergency departments) and improved access to psychological interventions (especially those delivered online and through smartphone technologies). 
  3. there is a need for particular focus on frontline workers including, but not limited to, healthcare staff.

References

  1. Cullen, W., Gulati, G., Kelly, BD., (2020) Mental health in the COVID-19 pandemic. QJM: An International Journal of Medicine, Volume 113, Issue 5, May 2020, Pages 311–312, https://doi.org/10.1093/qjmed/hcaa110https://academic.oup.com/qjmed/article/113/5/311/5813733
  2. Taylor S. The Psychology of Pandemics: Preparing for the Next Global Outbreak of Infectious Disease. Newcastle upon Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2019.
  3. Wang C, Pan R, Wan X, Tan Y, Xu L, Ho CS, et al. Immediate psychological responses and associated factors during the initial stage of the 2019 coronavirus disease (COVID-19) epidemic among the general population in China. Int J Environ Res Public Health 2020; 17:1729.

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