It feels like so long ago when everybody was still allowed to go outside and spend quality time with friends and family. It seemed like living in a different world, the pre-COVID19-era. Nowadays, amidst these new times, there is a lot of change and uncertainty around. This gives a lot of space to different myths and believes to arise. We do know that people get anxious and buy toilet papers in bulk. Yet, little attention is given to actual scientific facts, and, unfortunately, there are barely credible, science-based resources outlining the impact on mental health. Want to know what science has to say about this? Continue reading to find out!
What does science tell us about COVID-19 & mental health?
To start off, there are a lot of different factors that influence our wellbeing. It is the new challenges, unpredictability, uncertainty & misinformation around COVID-19 that lead to stress (Zandifar er al., 2020). In addition, just quarantine can already lead to feelings of loneliness and anger (Xiang et al., 2020). The combination of some of these factors – and especially the resulting stress – can trigger mental disorders like anxiety or depression (Dar et al., 2017). In line with this, a study conducted on the general public in China, found 53,8% of the population to experience the psychological impact of the outbreak as severe. Additionally, almost one-third felt severe levels of anxiety, 16% depression, and three-quarters of all respondents worried about family and friends. This impact was is especially strong amongst females, students, and the elderly (Wang et al., 2020).
What about people with mental distress?
Moreover, people with existing mental disorders seem to be even more susceptible to COVID-19. This is the case because they feature an increased risk of infections like pneumonia. Additionally, they also react more strongly emotionally and are more susceptible to stress (Yao et al., 2020). Even though most of the research has been published in China, similar findings have been made in Iran (Zandifar et al., 2020) and Italy (Grasselli et al., 2020).
Now, what does this mean for us now, the next few weeks, and the future in general?
Research has found how even after public health emergencies go by, there are still signs of distress and psychological symptoms in the population (Cheng et al., 2004). Consequently, it is likely that once COVID-19 has passed by, it will leave some longer-lasting scars in the overall wellbeing of the world population. Bearing in mind the tremendous impact that COVID-19 has upon our mental health, it is no surprise how Zhou et al. (2020) claim that it is not COVID-19 itself, but the resulting fear and panic that would cause more harm.
What other problems does this lead to?
As you can imagine, COVID-19 particularly impacts the mental health of medical staff. This is because they often have to work longer working hours, have a higher risk of exposure, and experience the stress first-hand (Xiang et al., 2020). As a result, they are prone to burnout or sick leave. This, in turn, leads to a shortage of crucial professionals and burdens the healthcare system even more (Duan et al., 2020). Apart from this, there are often issues in psychological interventions because there is a lack of trained professionals who know how to act in such situations. Moreover, there is a lack of coordination of psychological interventions, follow-up, and treatment (Duan et al., 2020).
What else is important to consider?
To ensure the effectiveness of interventions, it is important to categorize patients. Having said that, it is essential to be able to screen them in a quick and efficient way (Xiang et al., 2020). This is crucial in order to know the status quo and to keep an overview but is often not done consistently and efficiently. As you will read later, online apps have the potential to help out in this regard.
Now after, having heard all of these somber news, what can be done?
Luckily, research has also focused on tackling the negative consequences of COVID-19 on our mental health. To start off, anything that evokes a feeling of certainty and security helps. Having said that, already obtaining up-to-date information and seeing precautionary measures being taken can lower the negative impact on our wellbeing (Wang et al., 2020). Additionally, keeping up social contact with friends and family in a digital way is crucial (Armitage et al., 2020). More specifically, 9 lessons learned from supporting remote workers through COVID-19 stress can be found here.
What is the role of technology in this?
The use of platforms such as TikTok or WeChat appears to be effective and promising in mental health education (Lui et al., 2020). However, this should not be interpreted as a call to use social media more, since frequent social media users have also been found to on average feature higher levels of anxiety and depressive symptoms (Barry et al., 2017). Compliant with this, Prof. Lorant (medical sociology) annotated that it is a bad idea for young people to rely on social media to compensate for the lack of social contact (Benayad, 2020). Having heard two sides of the same coin, how can technology help in times of COVID-19?
What about online mental health services?
Next to social media, online mental health services are promising in improving the quality of psychological support (Xiang et al., 2020). This works through offering empathy, as well as the possibility to classify, screen, and refer patients. Implementing online mental health support can help maintain psychological wellbeing and effectively helps in treating depression and anxiety (Zhou et al., 2020). This can happen through online forums (Kauer et al., 2014) or smartphone apps (Kerst et al., 2019). These types of online mental health services successfully support psychosocial needs irrespective of geographical location (Zhou et al., 2020). Moreover, there is proof that people have expressed their interest in this type of support (Liu et al., 2020).
Where could I find such support?
If your employees find themselves amongst the many people feeling the impact of COVID-19, you could try out INUKA, a social enterprise on a mission to make effective mental support accessible for everyone. They offer effective and practical digital mental health support for employees by combining personal coaching with the latest scientific insights.
Here’s how it works. Once your company is on-boarded to INUKA, it’s very simple to get employees the support they need, and also for you as a company to get macro-level insights into the mental health of your employees.
- Check-in – Employees register with the INUKA app and are first guided to take a 5-minute wellbeing scan to assess their mental health across a spectrum of 3 states (at risk, in a tough place, resilient). Then, they get an option to book a session with a personal coach.
- See results within 4 sessions – Employees get the support they need in 60 to 90 min text-based coaching sessions by certified coaches trained & supervised in a proven method focused on a clear outcome and tailored to each employee’s needs. Most employees, even those most at risk, feel better within 4 sessions.
- Get insights as an organization – Track the progress of your employees at a macro level with regular reporting. Confidentiality is of utmost importance to us and no individual details are ever shared.
INUKA is offering an intro COVID-19 offer for 99EUR per employee for 3-months including access to the wellbeing scan, coaching, and reporting.
Are you an individual and looking for support?
INUKA is a paid service that companies can offer their employees. In response to COVI-19 and with the generous support of the Inuka Foundation, Inuka has decided to make it available to individuals during the current situation with a pay-what-you-can option. Normally this is a paid service that companies can offer their employees, but INUKA has decided to make it available to all during the current situation. For more info, and to sign up visit the website. They have also collected a list of science-based free and affordable tools here.
Armitage, R., & Nellums, L. B. (2020). COVID-19 and the consequences of isolating the elderly. The Lancet. Public Health.
Barry, C. T., Sidoti, C. L., Briggs, S. M., Reiter, S. R., & Lindsey, R. A. (2017). Adolescent social media use and mental health from adolescent and parent perspectives. Journal of adolescence, 61, 1-11.
Benayad, M. “Un Belge confiné sur deux souffre psychologiquement.” “La Libre”, 07-07-2020, https://www.lalibre.be/planete/sante/un-belge-sur-deux-vit-le-confinement-comme-un-mal-etre-psychologique-5e8cb302d8ad581631cc3b3a
Cheng, S. K., Wong, C. W., Tsang, J., & Wong, K. C. (2004). Psychological distress and negative appraisals in survivors of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). Psychological Medicine, 34(7), 1187-1195.
Dar, K. A., Iqbal, N., & Mushtaq, A. (2017). Intolerance of uncertainty, depression, and anxiety: Examining the indirect and moderating effects of worry. Asian journal of psychiatry, 29, 129-133.
Duan, L., & Zhu, G. (2020). Psychological interventions for people affected by the COVID-19 epidemic. The Lancet Psychiatry, 7(4), 300-302.
Liu, S., Yang, L., Zhang, C., Xiang, Y. T., Liu, Z., Hu, S., & Zhang, B. (2020). Online mental health services in China during the COVID-19 outbreak. The Lancet Psychiatry, 7(4), e17-e18.
Wang, C., Pan, R., Wan, X., Tan, Y., Xu, L., Ho, C. S., & Ho, R. C. (2020). Immediate psychological responses and associated factors during the initial stage of the 2019 coronavirus disease (COVID-19) epidemic among the general population in China. International journal of environmental research and public health, 17(5), 1729.
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Zandifar, A., & Badrfam, R. (2020). Iranian mental health during the COVID-19 epidemic. Asian journal of psychiatry, 51, 101990.
Zhou, X., Snoswell, C. L., Harding, L. E., Bambling, M., Edirippulige, S., Bai, X., & Smith, A. C. (2020). The role of telehealth in reducing the mental health burden from COVID-19. Telemedicine and e-Health.