Since the COVID-19 outbreak, the New York chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness has reported a 60% rise in calls to its help line, demonstrating high mental health risk.  Domestic abuse calls have also seen an increase across the United States with some areas reporting spikes as high as 20% (Houston Texas). Alcohol sales soared by 55% in March as stay-at-home orders went into effect across the United States while firearm sales have also reported a surge in the same period. All these factors combine to create a “Perfect Storm” of mental health risks that could lead to higher rates of anxiety, depression, alcoholism, and suicide.

Mental Health Risks as a Result of Isolation

As the pandemic continues to envelop the world further, the already overbearing mental health burden will only become heavier. Strategies to curb the spread of the virus such as the closure of businesses and schools, social distancing, and mandatory quarantine measures will lead to greater isolation and ultimately, depression. Although these measures are put in place to prevent further loss of lives as a result of COVID-19 infections, they do expose people to situations that are associated with poor mental health.

Because older adults are more likely to develop critical conditions if they contract COVID-19, it is especially important that they practice social distancing. This means that their interactions with caregivers, family, or friends will have to be restricted and this could lead to increased feelings of anxiety, depression, and loneliness.

Mental Health Concerns as a Result of Loss of Income

The social impact of the COVID-19 in addition to the economic consequences of the coronavirus have both been the cause of immense stress across populations worldwide. People have lost their sources of income be it their jobs or closure of businesses while others have been on the end of rather overwhelming pay cuts. Over 5 million people filed for unemployment benefits during the second week of April, bringing the total to over 26 million people at that time.

Almost all industries have suffered, with some industries feeling the impact more than others such as those involved in hospitality and leisure. This makes it very hard for some people to gain access to even the most basic resources such as food, water, housing, and healthcare.

All these issues combined only put people with mental illness at a higher risk of dealing with the coronavirus in one way or the other, be it contracting it or transmitting it further.

Mental Health Risks Among Healthcare Providers

A lot of healthcare facilities in the United States and across countries such as Italy, Spain, France, and the United Kingdom, which have been the hardest hit, are overwhelmed by the increasing number of patients admitted with symptoms of COVID-19. Consequentially, doctors and nurses have been wholly committed to their jobs, even while experiencing shortages in medical equipment such as testing tools to determine whether people have been infected or not or ventilators that are important in helping infected people who are in critical condition to breathe.

Chances of burnouts in hospitals among healthcare workers as a result of being stretched are very high. Dealing with the coronavirus is bound to have a negative effect on the mental health of doctors and nurses, especially those in households with children or old people. The psychological burden of treating the deadly disease as well as potentially transmitting it to loved ones could cause depression and anxiety among healthcare providers.

Approaching Mental Health Topics with Patients

There are several signs you can look out for when communicating with your patients. It is a good idea to first reach out to patients who fall into a higher risk category, but important to look for signs with all patients during this time.

  • Before contact, review their chart to check for any prior anxiety, depression or other signs to expect during communicating.
  • During contact, see if things are consistent with past charts or if there have been any changes to suggest that there may be something different in the patient’s mental health status.
  • Ask questions to learn more about how they are feeling both physically and mentally. These can be questions about their career, their state of isolation and how they are communicating with others (family, friends, etc.), and other areas of casual conversation that can otherwise alert to concerns.
  • Domestic abuse is a sensitive topic but can often be detected when asking typical questions about life at home with a significant other. Listen even closer for signs when asking about this topic as it can be more difficult to uncover than depression, anxiety and other areas.

Providers can help struggling patients by implementing screenings that will help to alert you to potential issues, allowing you to keep your patients safe and healthy. Self-assessments can be completed online and delivered to you as quickly as a click of a button. Being able to review the results with your patients in real-time will bring awareness to health risks before they escalate to a critical level.

Final Thoughts on Mental Health Risks During the Pandemic

The Coronavirus pandemic will likely have long-term and short-term consequences on mental health and those affected will need effective mental health services to help them overcome the trauma, anxiety, or depression. Some people have lost family members and friends to COVID-19 and due to the strict policies regarding limited attendances in funerals, some will be denied the chance to say a proper farewell. This emotional and psychological distress might prove too overwhelming for a lot of people. If mental health was considered a non-issue before, now is the right time to shed focus on the highly necessary need for mental health services.