Effects of COVID-19 on Mental Health (Now and Later)
With the holidays around the corner and the alarming spread of the new COVID-19 variant, Omicron, communities are reconsidering holiday plans and social gatherings. The implementation of social distancing and lockdown measures, while needed to control the spread and transmission, also disrupt social networks, working conditions, family dynamics, and the global community's mental fabric. Going into 2022, the now two-year-long pandemic’s impact on mental health has been of concern among researchers. While the awareness of the physical effects and symptoms of COVID-19 are publically available, the direct and indirect effects of COVID-19 on mental health have yet to make mainstream media and global attention.
In those who COVID-19 has infected, the direct impact of the virus has been shown to have a burden on the brain. Studies have repeatedly shown that in those infected with COVID-19, there is an increase in depression and anxiety (1). Surviving critical illness has also been shown to induce post-traumatic stress symptoms (PTSS), which are highly prevalent (96%) in patients admitted to hospitals with COVID-19 (2). Some researchers have suggested that the mechanisms behind the increased risk of depression, anxiety, and PTSS are due to increased inflammatory markers observed among COVID-19 patients (3–5). The inflammatory markers that may mediate these mental health implications are also observed in individuals with major depressive disorder (3–5). Although it is uncertain whether the risk of worsened mental health is directly caused by the COVID-19 virus, it may also be a product of social isolation.
Of those who COVID-19 have not been infected, studies have shown significant indirect effects of COVID-19 on their mental health. For instance, a meta-analysis has revealed that isolation time was directly related to increases in anxiety, depression, and stress levels (6). These effects have been shown to affect the general population. Yet, the degree of impact is heightened for demographics such as groups of racialized individuals, immigrants, refugees, indigenous communities, females, and low-wage workers, which are more vulnerable to the mental health effects and the social, economic, and physical impacts of the virus (1,7,8).
All the while, worry of job layoffs, duration of the pandemic, and fear of future career sustainability contribute to the long list of pandemic ‘unknowns’. These ‘unknowns’ have also been increasingly alarming as news outlets are filled with information overload, rumours and misinformation, contributing to the decrease in mental health status (9).
With the mandated COVID-19 orders affecting mental health, steps need to be taken to safeguard our current and future mental health state. Media attention should focus on ways in which we can cope and protect our mental health in these uncertain times. For instance, researchers have suggested maintaining healthy lifestyles by exercising regularly, eating balanced meals, getting adequate and quality sleep, and implementing breaks when reading, watching, or listening to pandemic news are effective ways to cope (10). Furthermore, research has encouraged the use of music, indoor play, aerobic exercise, prayer, reading, yoga, and creative activities as positive coping strategies (11). What is critical to the outcome of the COVID-19 pandemic on our mental health is the emphasis on physical and mental health and should be equally considered when reporting on the effects and outcomes of the pandemic.
We are all in this together! Keep doing your part, and remember to take care of yourself!
*DISCLAIMER* This blog does not cover all research on the effects of mental health. Other significant research has been published looking at the effects on health care employees, discriminated communities, those with pre-existing mental and physical conditions, and more, which have not been mentioned in this blog.
Photo by GDJ on pixabay.com
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2. Bo H-X, Li W, Yang Y, Wang Y, Zhang Q, Cheung T, et al. Posttraumatic stress symptoms and attitude toward crisis mental health services among clinically stable patients with COVID-19 in China. Psychol Med. 2021 Apr;51(6):1052–3.
3. Mao L, Jin H, Wang M, Hu Y, Chen S, He Q, et al. Neurologic manifestations of hospitalized patients with coronavirus disease 2019 in Wuhan, China. JAMA Neurol. 2020 Apr 10;
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8. Pandey K, Thurman M, Johnson SD, Acharya A, Johnston M, Klug EA, et al. Mental Health Issues During and After COVID-19 Vaccine Era. Brain Res Bull. 2021 Nov;176:161–73.
9. Gao J, Zheng P, Jia Y, Chen H, Mao Y, Chen S, et al. Mental health problems and social media exposure during COVID-19 outbreak. PLoS ONE. 2020 Apr 16;15(4):e0231924.
10. Shah K, Mann S, Singh R, Bangar R, Kulkarni R. Impact of COVID-19 on the Mental Health of Children and Adolescents. Cureus. 2020 Aug 26;12(8):e10051.
11. Kar SK, Yasir Arafat SM, Kabir R, Sharma P, Saxena SK. Coping with Mental Health Challenges During COVID-19. In: Saxena SK, editor. Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Epidemiology, Pathogenesis, Diagnosis, and Therapeutics. Singapore: Springer Singapore; 2020. p. 199–213.