Following the COVID-19 pandemic, much has been said about the economic and social disruptions it caused. However, as the more significant impact of the pandemic is the number of human lives lost globally and the unprecedented challenge to public health, one such health challenge is mental health.
The level to which the globe has been impacted mentally by the COVID-19 pandemic has still not yet been identified. Yet, multiple pieces of evidence suggest that there has been a varying but considerable rise in mental health conditions globally, especially among the vulnerable populations. These recently published studies evidence the existence of a mental health/pandemic curve that represents a significant possibility of a rise in mental health issues in our current post-COVID era.
It’s never easy to understand and manage mental health disorders. Thus, we explore how mental health has been adversely impacted post-COVID and the vital role that medical professionals must play in delivering mental healthcare.
The rise in mental health issues post-COVID
COVID-19 is regarded as one of the biggest global crises, leading to extreme repercussions for health systems, societies and economies. As we try to adjust to these ramifications to health and society, mental health has been significantly impacted. And while some patients develop basic mental health symptoms, COVID-19 has triggered and amplified more serious mental health problems in many patients.
Today, a large number of patients have been reported as having psychological distress and occurrences of depression, anxiety or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). There has also been a rise in suicidal thoughts and actions among individuals, including overwhelmed medical professionals.
For most people, the lockdown associated with the pandemic brought about massive levels of unpredictability and uncertainty regarding unemployment, numerous restrictions and major changes in the standards of living. These have also limited the already-inadequate level of mental healthcare. Evidently, these factors have imposed a significant psychological weight on the population.
Impact of COVID-19 on mental health
While mental health conditions have grown globally due to the pandemic, the quality and availability of mental healthcare have been disrupted. This is because the impact of COVID-19 on mental health was often overlooked; governments deployed staffing and infrastructure to other factors they considered to be a higher priority.
The lockdowns remain a critical aspect of the pandemic, and the social measures implemented to curb the virus’ spread hindered patients from accessing healthcare when needed. Numerous factors can be cited as critical factors that have limited the quality of mental healthcare, some of which include:
- Fear factor
Across the healthcare industry, the fear factor has continually altered the decisions of people who use psychiatric services. The link between fear and mental illness has been established in several ways, with anxiety being conceptualized as a causal factor in mental distress.
During the pandemic, fears concerning the virus have been a significant stressor to the mental health of numerous individuals, especially among the vulnerable populations and patients with underlying mental conditions. And, with time, increased levels of fear and panic led to most patients relapsing.
A recent study further highlights the impact of COVID fears and diagnosis on mental health. The study, carried out by The Lancet Psychiatry, found that 18% of all the people who received a COVID-19 diagnosis were later diagnosed with mental health disorders, such as anxiety and mood swings.
- Job loss and income insecurity
The pandemic brought about massive job and income loss cases, which has also affected adults’ mental health. This is mostly true for individuals who experienced job loss during the pandemic, with this group reporting a higher rate of mental health symptoms, including anxiety and depression.
Aside from anxiety and depression, job loss remains a significant cause of adverse mental health outcomes, such as substance abuse and suicide. Individuals with lower incomes also showed signs of mental health issues in the form of worry and stress. In truth, the economic implications of COVID-19 are also major causes of the widespread decline in mental health.
Importance of mental healthcare
Mental health is an important aspect of welfare that determines a person’s ability to operate psychologically, emotionally, and socially. Hence, as primary health providers, all medical professionals need to understand the importance of mental healthcare, especially in the current post-COVID world.
This importance is even more evident with several institutions offering advanced specialized degrees to professionals looking to build competency in the field. For instance, nursing professionals are exposed to various in-person and online RN to PMHNP programs that prepare them for advanced clinical practice.
Regardless of the age group, the importance of mental healthcare cannot be overemphasized, and, with such programs, nurses develop the skills to help mitigate the risks of severe mental health conditions and improve the quality of a patient’s life. Here are some of the important facets of mental healthcare:
- Helping individuals develop a strong ability to cope
While the COVID pandemic might have gone by, we continue to feel the global impacts, and individuals still have to contend with different stressors associated with the pandemic. However, mental healthcare can go a long way in helping people develop a stronger ability to cope with these stressors.
To reduce the severity of mental health issues across the globe, there is a need to eliminate all unhealthy means used by patients to cope with challenges and life stressors. Hence, quality mental healthcare would help patients attain a stable mental state, encouraging healthier coping mechanisms.
- Improving personal relationships
Needless to say, mental illness affects different aspects of life, including relationships. People that suffer from mental health conditions show high levels of stress and depression that adversely affect their ability to maintain healthy relationships.
As humans, we have an inherent desire to be around other people, and the relationships we form determine our mental and emotional health. As such, mental healthcare can also help patients maintain healthier relationships. Through mental healthcare, there is a decrease in stress and depression levels, which allows patients to become more trusting, respectful and open to communication.
The benefits of a healthy relationship are numerous, and most are effective in coping with life’s stressors. Hence, this could also help ensure patients do not relapse with time.
- Better self-awareness
A person’s self-awareness refers to their ability to focus on themselves and how clearly they recognize their values, passions and aspirations. There is a connection between self-awareness and some symptoms of mental health issues. For instance, individuals with a low level of self-awareness have a higher rating of health-related quality of life, which is mostly associated with depression.
As a result, mental healthcare can hugely impact a person’s feelings, self-esteem and confidence. Helping mentally vulnerable individuals develop better self-awareness makes it more likely for them to focus on the positives and become more ambitious and happier.
- Improving productivity
Following the economic implications of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was so much more emphasis on productivity now than ever. However, the most prevalent mental health disorders’ symptoms are limiting factors to a person’s productivity.
As we mentioned, mental healthcare comes with a lower stress level and increased happiness, ensuring individuals can work more efficiently and provide a higher quality of work. In truth, only mentally strong individuals can become very productive.
- Better problem-solving ability
Unsurprisingly, the Coronavirus pandemic has altered different aspects of life, bringing new ways of doing things. As such, individuals must show a range of competencies to successfully navigate the new way of doing things and the challenges that come with it. Problem-solving, in particular, remains a vital skill for both personal and professional life.
Mental healthcare in the form of problem-solving therapy helps to address various issues relating to life stressors and focuses on helping people find solutions to concrete issues. This approach to mental healthcare can manage various psychological and psychological symptoms. Patients also get to develop problem-solving skills as part of their therapy.
- Improving emotional regulation
Emotional regulation describes a person’s ability to manage and respond to emotional experiences effectively. In line with this, there is a link between emotional intelligence and mental health. According to a study, individuals with lower emotional regulation tend to have negative moods, which could impact their mental health after a prolonged period.
As part of mental healthcare, emotional regulation therapy is an effective person-centered approach for addressing effective regulation. The therapy helps individuals identify, acknowledge and describe their emotions, which could be effective in improving self-awareness.
The aftermath of COVID is likely to be a wave of mental health conditions, affecting even normal people who have been exposed to unbelievable situations. These medical conditions are prevalent, with symptoms ranging from anxiety to depression and other biological effects.
There is a critical need for medical professionals and the world at large to recognize the current and long-term implications of COVID-19 on mental health. The importance of mental healthcare cannot be overemphasized, and, as such, clinicians, researchers, healthcare policymakers and other stakeholders are required to put in motion various strategies to foster mental healthcare.