20 COVID-19’s Effect on Mental Health

Quinton Patterson

Introduction

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A woman wears a medical mask (often referred to as a surgical mask) in order to protect others from contracting possible illnesses.

COVID-19 has posed countless challenges to people across the globe. Times of uncertainty have affected almost everyone worldwide. Countries’ economies are suffering. Governments are becoming questioned and the death toll gets only rise. One aspect of COVID -19 that has flown under the radar thus far but is possibly one of the most important factors is mental health. As social tensions rise and political campaigns are at the forefront of the media, the mental health issue is worsening. However, very few acknowledging its severity (Wan). As an already increasing issue in today’s society it seems to have ramped up while simultaneously being shrouded by the Coronavirus.

Ironically, many of the problems surrounding our society today can trace their roots to this lack of care for the sanity of the population. Why does mental health often get pushed to the back? What makes it such a big deal? What aspects of the Coronavirus have affected mental health and vice versa? This chapter will focus on the importance of mental health and argue that pushing it under the rug is no longer an option, especially when mental health is linked so closely with society and COVID-19 developments. It will also provide insights to why society has gotten this negligent on mental health and how the problem can be fixed with societal change through a survey of Science and Technology Theories.

Connection to Science, Technology and Society (STS)

Three STS theories will be employed on this topic. The first discussed is the Tragedy of The Commons. We will explore how the burden of mental heath has been pushed off to a select few. This caused an uncontrollable issue that affects everyone, but few people want to claim responsibility. The second theory that will be explored is the Path Dependency. An examination of why the COVID-19 pandemic will occur. The fact that life is nowhere like we are used to has caused mass hysteria and a drastic increase in Mental Heath Issues. This is especially prominent in those who rely on a stable routine in their life. The final STS theory looked at will be Social Constructivism. As a final thought we will propose a solution that relies on Social Constructivism. This solution will be shaping a society that actively fights the mental health issue. As the society changes and adapts to battle the rising Mental Heath issue it will become easier as the symptoms and obstacles are torn down.

Not a New Issue

To first understand the mental health issue there must be some context provided (Rosenburg). Throughout the past 20 years the suicide rate in the United states has increased 31%, with over 17% of high school students and over 11% in the college age range seriously contemplating suicide. 20% percent of adults also have mental health issues. That’s 1 in 5 adults. Suicide is the second cause of death for individuals aged 10-34 years. These numbers were already on the rise before COVID-19 impacted the world (Rosenburg). However, after the initial outbreak of and reactions of the Coronavirus there has been a drastic increases in stress, psychological disorders, and substance abuse throughout the globe (Kamal et al.). According to research by the Kaiser Family Foundation, a non-profit organization studying health issues, over 60% impacted by the Coronavirus have suffered mental health issues of some kind. There has been a 12% increase of substance abuse in this group and over 30% report having trouble eating and sleeping because of COVID-19 related factors. The troubling news is only compounded by statements released by both The World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which predicted further increases in mental health issues, stress and substance abuse, which can lead to an increase of overdoses as the pandemic goes on. Overdoses which have already been on the rise in the last two decades, and deaths from it have increased threefold since 1999. Mental Health was an issue long before COVID-19 but this pandemic has undoubtedly caused a surge in it (Kamal et al.).

A Big Deal

Why has mental health been such an issue for so long, with seemingly no progress made to decrease the distress in people’s psyche? Why does it seem to float under the radar? The first step in understanding this is to understand the way many people feel about mental health. Unlike a typical viral infection or bacterial disease there is no common cure throughout the world that works on everyone. People experience different emotions and understanding others’ minds is still one of the biggest mysteries in science, which stumps even the smartest psychologists and mental health experts. How can people who have never experienced depression, dread or anxiety be expected to empathize and understand what others are going through, let alone “cure” mental illnesses? The responsibility is then often thrust upon people who struggle with or have struggled with these illnesses. Once again not much can be done. If you are unwell yourself how can it be expected of you to fix others, let alone be mentally healthy enough to do so? Those who have seemingly surpassed the illnesses have been shown to have their symptoms resurface while trying to counsel others. Hopelessness and doubt from others causes worry and sadness, plunging them deeper into illness. Mental health is mostly understood on a simple scale by most, and that’s where many people leave it. It becomes an impossible obstacle that few can surpass.

People’s attitudes towards mental health issues run parallel to the STS Theory of the “Tragedy of the Commons”. The theory states that people will often be self-interested and think more about themselves than the collective. Similar to the Tragedy of the Commons, people often adopt the “I am sure someone else will fix it” mentality when it comes to mental health, pushing the burden of this obstacle off their shoulders and onto others. This simply makes the problem worse and worse. It also creates a situation where only a select few are willing to carry the burden of helping others with mental health issues, but are unable to do much due to the lack of support they receive, unity, and strength as individuals. This lack of concern for others has caused the increase in mental health issues. Mental health problems are often concealed by people claiming to be burdened by “more important issues”. However, eventually it will become too much to ignore and push aside.

Factors Increasing Mental Health Issues

Now that the Mental Health issue has been given context and a brief glimpse of the struggle to remedy it has been brought forth, we must ask this question: How has mental health been affected by Coronavirus? There are many factors that have impacted people’s mental health during the pandemic. Here a few major ones will be broken down and discussed. The first factor is people’s concerns for safety. Questions about the effects, symptoms, and what it will take to be safe from COVID-19 have plagued many people’s thoughts. This is especially the case at the start of the pandemic, when answers were unreliable and few. Safety for not only themselves, but also friends and family members and loved ones is also puts an intense strain on people’s brains as they cannot control what their loved ones are exposed to (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).

While safety is usually first and foremost on many people’s minds quarantine is probably a close second. Quarantine has many of troubling issues surrounding it. The big one is isolation (Johnson). The lack of human interaction, especially for older people and those without parents or spouses have been extremely disheartening for many (Dubey et al.). Isolation is already an issue for these people, with those suffering from depression that has now unknowingly thrust upon those seeking help. Another Factor of quarantining is lack of a reliable source of income. Whether a business owner or a worker things are constantly in flux. For workers, many businesses have been forced to close or limit the amount of people working as a result of the pandemic (Dubey et al.). Unless workers are on contracted pay their salaries will suffer dramatically. Many workers are worrying about putting food on the table, paying for their electric bill and even water bills.

The impact of the pandemic extends beyond the working class. Debts are piling up and putting many people regardless of economic status in distress. Questions are raised such as, will I be able to maintain my current lifestyle? The breadwinners in many families have been laid off or put on leave. A sense of caring for their family financially has been pushed solely on them in many accounts, whether on purpose or not. Business owners are also having to constantly fight against the changing economic tides. Markets that were once predictable have now flipped all around (Dubey et al.). They need to comply with safety regulations put in place to protect their workers while also trying to maintain a consistent flow of income, not only for the business but also the workers. In many cases it is near impossible to balance the two without one suffering substantially. Products that need to be manufactured are now no longer as set in stone as in previous times. Many companies are either making surplus or having intense shortages, causing massive hysteria among the consumers who can no longer receive what many took for granted. Global recession that COVID-19 unleashed also impacted funding for hospitals, charities and research firms (Dubey et al.). Companies and individuals are attempting to protect all they have by pulling out their monetary support while in such an unprecedented time.

The next big factor is political uncertainty. While politics have never been a simple entity, one thing that seems straightforward is a desire by all people to ensure the safety and stability of society. However, the current political climate seems more divided than ever. Arguments over proper safety measures, vaccines, and budgeting have all but overtaken the governments of the world. In all of this nothing seems certain or even getting done, especially for mental illnesses (Wan). The U.S. has seen this especially the case, particularly during the 2020 election. The debate between democracy, freedom and proper safety precautions has taken hold of the nation. This debate causes people to pick sides and it also led tensions to rise and unrest to take hold. Various forms of social unrest, related to politics and other matters were already brewing, particularly in the US before the pandemic. This unrest has been made worse by the pandemic. The piling of more and more worries on people has historically stoked social conflict. Stress often causes people to make rash decisions and agitate others around them. In a politically divided society it can cause people to become more ingrained to their existing political views, plaguing society with the vocal extremes of opposing sides, who are ignorant of the rights of people who think differently than them.

While these are only a few examples of Coronavirus’ impact in people’s lives, they are already piling stress, worry, uncertainty and doubt in the minds of a lot of people.

Mental Health’s Importance to COVID- 19

So, the impact of Coronavirus on mental health issues is clear. What about the flipside? How has mental health affected people’s responses to the Coronavirus? Stress is proven to cause a decrease in the effectiveness of the human immune system (Johnson). Substance abuse. which has also been increasing substantially during the pandemic also has been shown to do the same (The Lancet Infectious Diseases). As noted earlier, stress also lead people to make rash decisions, which sometimes can put them in danger of contracting the Coronavirus. While the true impact of mental health on the spread of COVID-19 is unknown it is still worth noting as it shows that the mental health issue feeds into itself. 

Another STS theory that can be applied to understanding mental health issues is Path Dependency. Cultures often influence people to live in a specific way that they think will make them comfortable and happy. Our present day culture has made us ignore the issue of mental health, and it has also made us think that the time of global pandemics, such as the black plague was over. However, this dependency on a specific way of life has been our downfall. Very few were prepared for the Coronavirus pandemic and people’s plans and lifestyles were thrown on their heads (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). This drastic change in lifestyle being so sudden caused many to fret and worry, making an already growing mental health issue in society even worse. 

Conclusion: Is There a Fix?

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While the illustration above is not to be taken literally it is, however, a good visual metaphor for fighting against the struggles COVID – 19 has caused.

The factors that have affected mental health during the Coronavirus pandemic have been laid down but there is still one thing missing. How can we fix this? How can such a seemingly impossible task be accomplished? First we must come together as a community and acknowledge the enormity of the threat that mental health poses and stop hiding from it (American Psychological Association). The harsh truth must be faced. The burden for resolving it then needs to be passed amongst all members the community. Governments must work together, political parties need to agree at least on a need to tone down divisive rhetoric and address mental health problems. Society also needs to stop pleading ignorance. Worry and doubt must not be the accepted outcomes during the pandemic. Peoples mindsets must be changed to that of hopefulness, looking toward the future and how things can get better. A healthy mental lifestyle affects more than just individuals themselves. As bright minds stop committing suicide and healthy workers strive to get better companies will grow, economies thrive and the quality of life will improve. Viewing mental health as an impossible task can no longer be the accepted view.

The final STS Theory put in place in this chapter, social constructivism, is the key to the solution. How we view the world is often not objective but shaped by our shared values. We must overcome the limitations of our thinking, which has helped to foster a negative social climate that has allowed mental health issues to grow. Society must push past the darkness of mental illness and embrace the solution. We should acknowledge and fight to improve the psyche of each person.

References

American Psychological Association. “Psychological impact of COVID-19.“ American Psychological Association, 16 Apr. 2020, https://www.apa.org/topics/covid-19/psychological-impact.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention  (2020, July 01). Mental Health and Coping During COVID-19. Retrieved November 30, 2020, from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/managing-stress-anxiety.html

Johnson, Heather. “Position Paper: The Impact of COVID-19 on Mental Health.” Psychiatry Advisor, 3 Sept. 2020, www.psychiatryadvisor.com/home/topics/general-psychiatry/position-paper-the-impact-of-covid-19-on-mental-health/.

Kamal, Rabah, et al. “The Implications of COVID-19 for Mental Health and Substance Use.” Kaiser Family Foundation, 21 Aug. 2020, www.kff.org/coronavirus-covid-19/issue-brief/the-implications-of-covid-19-for-mental-health-and-substance-use/.

Rosenburg, Jamie. “Mental Health Issues On the Rise Among Adolescents, Young Adults.” The American Journal of Managed Care, 19 Mar. 2019, www.ajmc.com/view/mental-health-issues-on-the-rise-among-adolescents-young-adults.

Dubey, Souvik, et al. “Psychosocial Impact of COVID-19.” Diabetes & Metabolic Syndrome Clinical Research & Reviews, vol. 14, no. 5, 2020, pp. 779-788. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7255207/#:~:text=Previous%20outbreaks%20have%20reported%20that,to%20extremes%20of%20consequences%2C%20including.

The Lancet Infectious Diseases. “The Intersection of COVID-19 and Mental Health.” The Lancet, 8 Oct. 2020, www.thelancet.com/journals/laninf/article/PIIS1473-3099(20)30797-0/fulltext.

Wan, William. “The Coronavirus Pandemic Is Pushing America into a Mental Health Crisis.” The Washington Post, 12 May 2020, www.washingtonpost.com/health/2020/05/04/mental-health-coronavirus/.

Images

“Coronavirus Facemask Mental Health” by happypixel19 is in the Public Domain, CC0

“Corona Fight Covid-19” by Alexandra Koch is in the Public Domain, CC0

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