The pandemic has reached its tentacles into just about every area of life at this point. Far from wreaking just medical havoc, it’s also affected many other realms—the economy, likely for some time to come, and mental health, as many have felt already. For those who have lost their jobs, the psychological devastation is obvious. For those who are simply stuck indoors, the effects may be less severe, but not insignificant—particularly if mental health problems already existed.
A new report by the Kaiser Family Foundation finds that the mental health burden is increasing for just about everyone. In a mid-March poll, 32% of people polled said that worry and stress about coronavirus had a negative impact on their mental health. Two weeks later in late March, this number had risen to 45%.
And women appear to be suffering more than men. From the most recent KFF poll, women were 16% more likely to say that coronavirus-related worry or stress had had a negative impact on their mental health, compared to men (53% vs. 37%). Compare this to polls two weeks earlier, where the gender gap was just 9% (36% vs. 27%).
For the parents of kids under 18, the numbers are even more dramatic. At the end of March, 57% of mothers vs. 32% of fathers said their mental health has gotten worse because of the pandemic. Two weeks earlier, there had been just a 5% difference between the genders (36% vs. 31%), suggesting that mothers may be bearing a disproportionately large part of the burden as time goes on. Today In: Healthcare
Even more disturbing, the psychological fallout of the pandemic may continue to rise over the coming weeks and months, if not longer.
“Unfortunately, we have seen an uptick in inquiries and referrals to our mental health treatment center,” says Roger McIntyre, Professor of Psychiatry and Pharmacology at the University of Toronto and Head of the Mood Disorders Psychopharmacology Unit. “As time goes on and people develop even more severe anxiety or depression as it relates to economic uncertainty or as a side effect of isolation, we do expect our numbers to continue to increase. What we are seeing is a combustible mix of loneliness and stress that is amplified by COVID-19.”
He adds that as time marches on and “the anguish in staying home” intensifies, a rising suicide rate may follow, as history has seen before. “What is a major cause for concern is the estimated 10 million Americans that filed jobless claims in the past 2 weeks. For every 1% increase in unemployment, there is generally also a 1% increase in suicide,” he says, referring to a statistic that comes from previous economic crises. “A lockdown can exacerbate these feelings of loneliness and depression, especially for the unemployed or the young who are also susceptible.”
The physical health consequences of the pandemic are clear, and there’s clearly a lot at stake; but the mental health consequences should not be ignored or minimized, and a number of experts have urged policy to take this seriously. As we start to think about reopening society—which hopefully be as soon as possible, but based on a data-driven and nuanced understanding of the situation—it will be extremely important to think about the mental health aspects right along with the physical.