The Camouflaged Consequences of COVID-19

-By Udbhav Mehta

Mind Matters

With a plethora of information and research available about the physiological effects of COVID-19, it is easy to forget about the hidden implicit damage caused to our mental health by the global epidemic. COVID has the dubious distinction of epitomizing total chaos due to death, isolation and unemployment. Meta-research that studied the presence of depression in communities from various nations between 1995 and 2015 declared that the lifetime prevalence of depression was 10.8%. A recent study in 2019 to evaluate the depression and anxiety of people in Hong Kong during the COVID-19 pandemic using the PHQ-9 and GAD-7 scales suggested that 19% of the respondents had depression (PHQ-9 score ≥10) and 14% had anxiety (GAD score ≥10) which is much higher than that reported in previous studies. Taking into account, the immeasurable economic suffering caused in addition to overwhelming the coping capacities of numerous people and the fact that the governmental authorities ordered the closure of educational establishments and businesses, restricted large assemblies, mandated quarantines for people travelling from abroad, and encouraged social distancing.

As such, people have had to stay in isolation throughout the initial phase of COVID. A periodic review reported recurring proof linking social isolation and loneliness to poor mental health. Another review noted that quarantines during the outbreak led to poor mental wellness outcomes due to agitation, boredom, sparse basic supplies, and inadequate information leading to uncertainty. Staying at home and having a higher frequency of social media exposure will also increase the likelihood of having anxiety especially in adolescents that get overwhelmed due to too much information about COVID-19 through platforms like Twitter.

Social media is a double-edged sword. It can, on one hand, disseminate important information so that people can adopt appropriate public measures to protect themselves. On the other hand, it can cause indirect exposure to mass trauma and spread rumours, misinformation, and fear rapidly, further heightening fear and anxiety. Personality traits should also be considered when we would like to understand individuals’ reactions to pandemics. Some personality traits such as neuroticism are associated with the tendency to experience negative emotions in response to psychosocial stressors, making them more likely to be depressed or anxious during these times. Depression and anxiety in turn have an adverse effect on the immediate recall of new information and the total amount of acquisition of information making it tougher for students during the transition of education from offline to online.

There is an immediate need to objectively study the impact of COVID and the psychological trends that come with it, they could very well define the future of our economy, of human relationships, and of our wellbeing.