COVID-19 could lead to an epidemic of clinical depression, and the health care system isn’t ready for that, either.
As the number of coronavirus infections continues to rise, the likelihood more people will need to self-quarantine or self-isolate is becoming evident.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends people self-quarantine if they are concerned they may become ill following possible exposure. Those who are actually sick with COVID-19, the new strain of coronavirus, should self-isolate, so as not to spread the disease to cohabitators. The recommended time period for both conditions is 14 days.
Quarantining yourself at home can play an important role in preventing the spread of infectious diseases. But this doesn’t mean that coping with the disruption in your normal routine is easy. While quarantine may be only temporary, even brief periods of isolation and loneliness can have negative consequences on both physical and mental well-being.
Quarantine is an effective way to prevent the transmission of infection but is potentially a source of stress from fears of infection and long isolation, frustration, boredom, inadequate information and supplies, financial loss, and stigma.
Effects of Past Quarantine Measures
While each circumstance is unique, looking at past events can provide a look into the psychological impact that quarantines may have.
Between 2002 and 2004, more than 15,000 people in Toronto voluntarily went into quarantine due to exposure to severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). SARS, like COVID-19, is a contagious respiratory illness caused by a coronavirus.
For a period of around 10 days, these individuals were asked not to leave their homes, not to have visitors, to wear face masks around other family members, to avoid sharing personal items, and to wash their hands frequently, among other measures. Later research indicated that quarantined individuals experienced a range of both immediate and short-term psychological consequences.
In addition to the feelings of social isolation during quarantine, participants reported longer-lasting psychological distress for around a month afterward. Almost 29% of participants displayed PTSD symptoms, while 31.2% had depressive symptoms.
CAUSES OF MENTAL ISSUES DURING THE QUARANTINE
Prolonged Isolation – our primary strategy to reduce the spread of the virus – adds another layer of risk. Our bodies are not designed to handle social deprivation for long. Past studies suggest that people forced to “shelter in place” will experience more depression. Those living alone and lacking social opportunities are at risk.
The biggest stressor for many is financial. Unemployment and Economic losses will be severe. Research on post regression suggests that rising unemployment and financial insecurity lead to increased rates of depression and suicide.
Possible Mental Health Effect of Coronavirus Quarantines
A 2019 review in The Lancet analyzed the results of past studies to get a better idea of how COVID-19 may impact those who are quarantined. The review found that psychological distress is common both during and after periods of quarantine. People commonly experienced:
There is some evidence that there may be longer-term consequences as well. Substance and alcohol dependency was more common up to three years after quarantine.
Things You Can Do to Cope
Researchers suggest that there are steps that may help mitigate some of the negative mental health effects of quarantine.
Be proactive and layout an intentional structure for your day.
The disruption in your normal daily routines can be one of the most difficult aspects of quarantine. This can leave you feeling directionless as you try to figure out how to fill all the hours of the day.
If you’re working from home, it can be helpful to structure your time much like a regular workday. This can be a challenge, however, if you’re at home with other family members, including children, who are now home all day as well. Left without the structure of a normal school day, kids can be left feeling just as out-of-sorts as adults.
If you’re trying to keep small kids entertained while stuck in the house, or even trying to keep working amidst it all, it’s important to find a routine that works for you. Plan out activities that will keep everyone busy so you can get some work done. Try creating a daily schedule, but don’t get too wrapped up in sticking to a strict routine. Make your own routines and break up the day in order to stave off monotony
Anxious thoughts can be more difficult to escape in sustained isolation, such as the widespread lockdown measures due to the coronavirus pandemic, but arts and crafts have been shown to help distract from these feelings.
Creating something for ourselves and others also helps our sense of self-efficacy, or the belief in our own abilities according to Clinical neuropsychologist Katie Carey Levisay, who runs a private practice in Denver, Colorado. Using time purposefully has also been linked to lower depressive symptoms.
“The rewarding experience of creating, sharing, and using our time well all stimulate the reward centers in the brain to release ‘feel-good’ neurotransmitters (dopamine) and our endogenous opioids (endorphins),” she said.
Be Physically Active
Even relatively short periods of physical inactivity can have an impact on your health, both mentally and physically. One study found that just two weeks of inactivity could lead to reductions in muscle mass and metabolic effects.
Fortunately, there are plenty of at-home workouts that can help keep you moving even when you are stuck inside the house. Your quarantine may be brief, but staying active may help you feel better and maintain your fitness levels. It’s also a great way to help combat the sense of malaise and boredom that can come from being stuck inside day after day.
At-Home Workout Ideas:
· Exercise videos
· Bodyweight exercises
· Online workouts
· Fitness apps
Staying in contact with other people not only staves off boredom, but it is also critical for minimizing the sense of isolation. Stay in touch with friends and family by phone and text. Reach out to others on social media. If possible, join a support group or discussion board specifically for people who are in quarantine. Talking to others who are going through the same thing can provide a sense of community and empowerment.
Beware of Too Much Social Media
Use social media wisely. No doubt, social media is your friend when isolated. But resist scrolling through Facebook and Instagram endlessly; that won’t really feed your need for connection, but has been shown in some studies to actually make people feel left out or “less than.” Instead, use social media to meaningfully connect. Plan weekly (or even daily) group video chats with friends, family, neighbors or colleagues. Social connection is one of the most important drivers of well-being.
Shift Your Mental Space
Finally, use principles of mindfulness to shift your mental stance from frustration about the situation to curiosity. Take on the mindset of an anthropologist or journalist observing a social experiment. Keep a journal (written, sketches, or video) of your experience during quarantine – what you did and how you felt day-by-day. Taking on this stance will give you a little distance, which can reduce distress, as well as keep you open to the positive or simply interesting things that may happen during this very unusual experience