In a move that would have been unthinkable just months ago, quarantine and social distancing have now become commonplace globally as governments make concerted efforts to fight the spiraling coronavirus outbreak.
The measures, which have seen citizens from the U.S. to India either encouraged or enforced to stay in their homes, are deemed by medical experts as necessary in reducing the spread of the virus. But, the implications for people’s mental wellbeing cannot be overlooked.
A recent study from medical journal The Lancet notes that the psychological impact of quarantine can be great, resulting in a range of mental health concerns from anxiety and anger to sleep disturbances, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Indeed, separate studies of quarantined patients of SARS, a previous coronavirus outbreak in 2003, found between 10% and 29% suffered PTSD.
The Lancet’s report found mental health concerns could be inflamed by stressors associated with quarantine, such as infection fears, frustration, boredom, inadequate supplies, lack of information, financial loss and stigma associated with contracting the disease.
That can be an issue not only for people with preexisting mental health concerns, but also those in seemingly good psychological health.
Identifying mental health concerns:
The CDC notes that people should look out for signs of distressed mental health in themselves and others. Symptoms may include:
— Fear and worry about your own health
— Changes in sleep or eating patterns
— Difficulty sleeping or concentrating
— Worsening of chronic health problems
— Increased use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs
Recognizing the problem, the World Health Organization this week released guidance on how people can protect their mental health during the outbreak.
“Humans are social animals,” professor Ian Hickie at the University of Sydney’s Brain and Mind Centre told CNBC Make It. “Prolonged quarantine or social isolation (without compensatory methods in place) will exacerbate anxiety, depression and a sense of helplessness.”