The detrimental effects of the COVID-19 pandemic aren’t exclusive to our physical health – it has also taken a toll on people’s mental well-being. The world has faced such draining and exhausting challenges during the height of COVID-19 like social isolation, financial instability, and uncertainty of the future.
As a result, mental health concerns have surged across the country and increased the demand for quality therapy in the comfort of people’s homes. Exploring the impact of COVID-19 on mental health sheds light on the vital role psychologists play in providing psychological support and interventions during the unprecedented global pandemic.
The Impact of COVID-19 on Mental Health
The COVID-19 pandemic has introduced a myriad of stressors that have adversely and immensely affected people’s mental health globally. More people than ever have experienced increased levels of anxiety, depression, and other psychological issues.
Socialization with friends of both old and new has been disrupted by restrictive measures such as lockdowns, physical distancing, and the fear of contracting the virus, which inevitably led to feelings of isolation and loneliness worldwide. People had no choice but to communicate via social media and video meeting platforms like Zoom and Google Meet.
Then there’s also the financial hardships, unemployment, and the strain of adapting to remote work or online education, which are additional stressors to a situation nobody was really prepared for. These circumstances have resulted in a surge of demands for mental health care, as the decline of global mental health has manifested in the exacerbation existing mental health conditions of people and the new ones that have emerged that are almost entirely due to the pandemic.
1. COVID-19 and the Economy
Having had a profound impact on the global economy, COVID-19 has led to governments all around the world implementing lockdown protocols. In turn, this resulted in an unprecedented surge in unemployment rates, astounding amounts of longstanding brick-and-mortar businesses shutting down, and most devastatingly, a multitude of individuals suddenly finding themselves out of work.
To say the least, the repercussions of the pandemic are severe, with entire industries collapsing especially during the peak of COVID 19 and are still struggling to recover to this day. Additionally, the exponential growth of coronavirus cases forced companies to lay off even their longtime employees or furlough them indefinitely.
The uncertainty with employment or business can take a huge toll on anyone’s mental health, especially since necessities at home must be met. It puts even more mental pressure on those with families, as there are younger people who still depend on them.
2. COVID-19 and School and Work Setups
The traditional education and employment setups were forced to adapt to remote learning and remote work practices. Educational institutions have swiftly transitioned to online platforms, allowing students and employees to continue their studies and their work tasks from their homes.
But as much as this shift seemed easy and convenient at first, it wasn’t without challenges – some students didn’t have any access to the necessary technology to accommodate the changes that the lockdown brought about.
In the same way, there was decreased collaboration and an increased sense of isolation among employees when businesses embraced remote work arrangements in an attempt to safeguard employee health and maintain operations amidst the pandemic.
3. COVID-19 and Physical Health
There are multiple viral strains of COVID-19, and they aren’t created equal – some are more detrimental to our health than other strains. Once infected, you may experience coughing, high fever, fatigue, shortness of breath, and muscle aches, among other symptoms.
COVID-19 also poses a significant threat to older adults as well as cases of comorbidities – those with pre-existing conditions such as those with cardiovascular disease or diabetes being infected with COVID-19. Reports have emerged of long-term complications like lung damage and neurological symptoms.
Aside from what was mentioned, the physical distancing measures that were implemented to curb the COVID-19 spread inadvertently resulted in decreased physical activity levels for most people, and this interruption of routine exercise definitely reduced people’s muscle strength and cardiovascular fitness.
And lastly, the number of hospitalizations because of COVID-19 further strained healthcare systems on a global scale. Healthcare workers were stressed, lonely, and uncertain of when the pandemic would end. Mental health issues worldwide were also worsened by feelings of isolation, anxiety, and depression, especially from 2020 until 2022.
The Role of Psychologists
More than ever, the need for mental health professionals skyrocketed, and psychologists stepped up to accommodate people’s needs. By definition, psychologists are trained professionals who specialize in understanding human behaviour, emotions, and thought processes. Psychologists have been trained to use evidence-based therapies and interventions in helping people cope with stress, manage their anxiety and depression, build resilience, and stay mentally healthy overall.
It’s the duty of psychologists to provide a safe and confidential space for people who want to express their grievances, thoughts, and feelings without judgment, and one of the most effective therapies that almost all psychologists use is Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT).
CBT helps people identify and change any unhelpful thought patterns and behaviours that contribute to their own mental health issues. By challenging and restructuring these patterns, psychologists empower their clients to develop healthier coping strategies and regain control over their lives.
How Psychologists Help People Cope With COVID-19
As psychologists have extensive knowledge and expertise in mental health, they’re the ones who provide valuable guidance and support to help individuals navigate through the emotional, psychological, and social impact of the pandemic.
Psychologists can utilize evidence-based therapeutic techniques like cognitive-behavioral therapy or mindfulness-based stress reduction in order to equip individuals with effective coping strategies that are healthy and non-destructive.
Offering a non-judgmental space for people to express any of their COVID-related thought processes, emotions, or concerns, psychologists collaborate with clients on resilience-building exercises – they develop routines and fostering healthy coping skills that can help the client long after the pandemic is over.
Author Joanna Jeffers, M.A., C.Psych.