Pandemic’s lasting impact on mental health

Some time ago, we discussed the effects of lockdown on mental health. It’s appropriate we now talk about the impact of the overall pandemic experience on mental health. Although a measure of its true toll won’t be visible for some time. 

A report published by WHO in early 2022 highlighted the fact that in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, the global prevalence of anxiety and depression increased by a massive 25%

“The information we have now about the impact of COVID-19 on the world’s mental health is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. “This is a wake-up call to all countries to pay more attention to mental health and do a better job of supporting their populations’ mental health.”. 

What are the stressors? 

One of the explanations for this unprecedented increase in stress is the social isolation resulting from the pandemic. The constraints it imposed on our ability to work, cutting us off from loved ones and the complete lack of community engagement added to the already strained mental state.

Loneliness, fear of infection, financial worries and in some cases, grief after bereavement have also all been cited as stressors leading to anxiety and depression.

Among health workers, in particular, exhaustion has been a major trigger.

As mentioned in an article in New York Times, C.D.C. estimated that 15.8 percent of American adults took prescription pills for mental health in 2019. This has increased to a quarter of American adults. 

Rising medication numbers aren’t necessarily caused only by a worsening of mental health in this country, although rates of anxiety and depression have increased. Part of the uptick could be explained by the fact that, stuck at home, people finally had time to seek out the health care they had been delaying.

Impact and impediments in Australia

A recent study on the effects of COVID-19 on Australians’ mental health, the Alone Together Study, was run by the University of Sydney’s Matilda Centre, in collaboration with Australia’s Mental Health Think Tank. The study findings were published in PLOS ONE.

Lead author Dr Marlee Bower said that despite growing evidence on the serious disruption COVID-19 has caused in the daily lives of Australians, the mental health experiences of the general public were largely unknown. In addition, many were seeking mental health support for the first-time in their lives but faced multiple barriers to access.

As part of the Alone Together Study, researchers surveyed over 1000 Australians from 18 to 89 years old, during July to December 2020 and a follow up survey between March and June 2021. The study was conducted across all Australian states and territories.

Some of its key findings indicate that: 

  • 1/5th of the participants said two major factors that impacted mental health were the increase in financial hardship and changes in their social support system and structures
  • 1/10th of the participants described the pandemic as fragmenting their social networks, and worsening feelings of isolation and disconnection
  • Many reported how the break on social contact during the pandemic has had a long-term effect including feelings of discomfort on socialising again

The findings show that mental healthcare is not just about delivering psychological treatment, but also financial support, employment and social support. Whole-of-government policies spanning social services and welfare, finance, housing, education, family and community and workforce are needed to achieve tangible impacts on Australians’ mental health.

Opinions or facts expressed within the content have been sourced from various news sources. While every effort has been taken to source them accurately, the pharmacy, its owners, staff or other affiliates do not take any responsibility for errors in these sources. Patients should not rely on the facts or opinions in the content to manage their own health, and should seek the advice of an appropriate medical professional. Further, the opinions or facts in the content do not reflect the opinions and beliefs of the pharmacy, its owners, staff or other affiliates.

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