The hidden cost of “the battle with Coronavirus”
Listening to the news, seeing pictures of empty shelves on social media, speaking to friends in Italy (not allowed to leave their flats) and France (where schools are closing starting next week), I can’t help thinking about the emotional cost of the current epidemics.
With number of fatalities raising, it is easy to forget about people who are not actually ill with virus but are experiencing anxiety attacks, shutting themselves at home and sinking into depression, afraid to reach out to friends and family as social contacts are not encouraged.
Of course, we need to follow expert medical advice and containment and isolation are often necessary. But with all the media panic and shopping hysteria there is one thing we need to keep in mind – how will all these protective measures will affect population’s mental health in the very near future.
Putting aside an increasing wave of anxiety
(I had more clients coming in with this particular issue than ever before) generated by the alarmist newspaper headlines, let’s have a look at measures that are meant to prevent the spread of the epidemics.
Postponing concerts and sporting events for a few weeks is one thing, but forbidding relatives to visit elderly in old people’s homes seems to be going to far.
Surely it could be organised in a way that is safe for both elderly and their families – masks, safe distance etc.
How do you think an old person will feel, isolated in his or her own room, denied contact with relatives? Our emotional state directly affects our immune system, so feelings of loneliness and depression are not likely to do elderly residents much good. As Simon Whalley, Director of Birtley House Group said: “We’ve restricted non-essential visits, but we’ve got to think of residents mental and emotional health”.
According to the review published in Lancet last month on the psychological impact of quarantine, “self-isolation can lead to post-traumatic stress, anxiety, depression and public anger”.
Anxiety doesn’t just affect people suffering from it – it stops people going out, which, in turn, affects huge numbers of businesses – from retail to catering. The result is not just financial hardships, but psychological misery for business owners and their employees.
What will happen if we decide to go Italy’s way and order everyone to self-isolate, basically putting the whole country under house arrest?
If you get on well with your family – good for you! You might have a nice couple of weeks together. But what about single people or elderly people living alone?
Think about a single mother with two young kids, who can’t go to work because nursery is shut?
Experts tell us that we are already experiencing the “epidemic of loneliness”, so how do you think forced isolation will affect those most at risk? There was a lot in the press recently on rising numbers of suicides – well, numbers will continue to rise.
According to historians, after the Great Spanish flu pandemic there was a so called “melancholy epidemic” all over the world, which greatly influenced the course of history.
Our task presently, whilst doing everything we can to fight the virus, is to maintain social connections and community spirit, maybe reporting more on ways in which communities could come together to help the sick and organize childcare. It would be great to read articles about amazing work being done by NHS in general as well as by individual doctors and nurses helping the sick and getting people well in difficult circumstances, rather than dwelling on how unprepared NHS is for the epidemic.
Less panic, more positive examples of people doing things right, plus plenty of practical help and advice, that’s what is needed right now if we don’t want to end up with Mental Health epidemic in a few months time.