Long-Term Effects of COVID-19 on Mental Health
Article by Maria Pedraza, B.A. & Shehara Yoosuf, M.A.
If you find yourself feeling worried or anxious about life after the pandemic, you are not alone. Things are transitioning to a “new normal” and many people seem to be struggling with the vast emotional and societal changes. Although vaccines are readily available, and mask mandates are slowly being lifted, the effects of the pandemic continue to take a toll on individuals’ mental health. Many mental health providers are reporting a significant increase in individuals seeking mental health services due to a heightening of existing mental disorders as well as anxiety and depressive symptoms in the global population. Society has learned throughout the pandemic that there are many factors outside of their control and healthcare providers and many clients report feeling isolated, disconnected, and lost. A global study published in the Lancet Medical Journal (2021) examined the onset of depression and anxiety disorders due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. The researchers found that an estimated 53 million cases of major depressive disorders and 76 million additional cases of anxiety disorders were revealed. With all of this in mind, how can we adapt to this new way of life?
It is normal to experience worry and anxiety about change, especially at such a large scale. Many of us seem to have conflicting feelings of longing for normalcy again while also being nervous to risk exposure to the virus. On top of this, the pandemic forced many individuals to face unrelated issues in their lives that they had been able to “keep on the back burner” while busy with the day to day distractions of life. Our busy schedules often serve as defense mechanisms to cover up and avoid having to confront issues in our lives. When the pandemic started and forced everyone to change their schedules and lives, this led to an uptick in people realizing their struggles and seeking help. While some individuals struggled through the transition to lockdowns and virtual life, other individuals that may have been embracing those changes seem to be having a hard time transitioning back. People who may have social anxiety, worries about germs and illness, or even difficulties with changes to routines have been experiencing immense distress around the “new normal”.
The pandemic has also been a source of constant stress and trauma for many individuals. Everyone has experienced loss and change due to the pandemic, and for many, the loss of family members and friends have had an impact on mental health. An important part of the grieving process is to feel socially supported and participate in important rituals, such as funerals. The lasting impact of being unable to grieve and process loss in a healthy way can lead to complicated and long-lasting grief, which can cause and exacerbate mental health conditions like depression and anxiety.
The stress and impact of COVID-19 could have long-lasting effects for many individuals. Many young people missed events like graduations and weddings, and this is likely a very different experience from what their parents and older family members may have gone through. This could additionally lead to a sense of isolation and loss for these developing individuals, and it is important for them to have time and space to process feelings and emotions that are coming up for them.
While the pandemic has led to increased mental health disorders globally, it has also forced many of us to address and work through issues in our lives that we have been able to avoid until now. It is important to examine our lives in a way that integrates the comfortable and uncomfortable emotions and experiences, to help us grow and heal.
To minimize the effects of the pandemic, it is recommended to seek mental health services. If you are having difficulty functioning at home, work, or school, seeking mental health services may be a way to manage these issues. We also know that demands on mental health providers are high, so you may have difficulty finding a psychologist promptly. Several people seem to have a good understanding of common strategies that can help them cope through these difficult times, but initiating these techniques can be daunting. The resources listed below can help you implement some skills in the meantime.
One effective strategy can include creating small and manageable goals, rather than making major lifestyle changes. These small changes may lead to an increase in mood and activity, and may include things like going for a walk, calling a friend, cleaning one room rather than the whole house, etc.
Additional strategies can be sought out through this link, which provides more specific strategies and tips for managing uncomfortable emotions, such as feeling depressed, lonely, or stir-crazy. Along with creating small manageable goals, scheduling pleasurable activities can act as its own buffer to stress.