In the blink of an eye, we have gone from dreading another day at school or work to dreading another day of virtual meetings. What was once known as normal daily interactions less than a year ago has turned into faraway fantasies. I’m sure if I told myself a year ago about what was to happen to the world, I would have laughed and never believed what I was talking about. I wouldn’t have even understood what “Zoom” or “hybrid schedules” meant. Without realizing, we have completely changed the culture of this era. While some are thriving in these new socially distanced environments, for many, COVID-19 has been much more than just a deadly virus.
Studies have indicated that COVID-19 is associated with distress, anxiety, fear of contagion, and depression within the general population. Social isolation has led to many stress-related psychiatric conditions in people of all ages. Previous pandemics, like the Spanish Flu in 1918, have shown to be correlated with an increase in suicide rate. Likewise, research done on the 2003 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak in Hong Kong has shown a significant increase in suicides of people aged 65 and above.
Furthermore, a recent survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation indicates that 45% of adults in the United States have reported that COVID-19 has negatively affected their mental health due to stress and worries over the unknown. A similar survey conducted on health care professionals in China has reported 50.4% of participants to have depression, 44.6% anxiety, 34.0% insomnia, and 71.5% distress.
As we see more studies and research regarding the deteriorating mental health around the world, we must recognize the risk of the permanent effect COVID-19 will have on mental health. As a high school student, I can firmly state that I am definitely not the same person as I was when quarantine first started. Over the last few months, I have watched many friends struggling to get by each day as they are lacking the social interaction they need. I have watched relationships crumble as adults try to make ends meet for their families. I have seen teachers who are beyond frustrated and stressed to make online learning doable for the students.
As much as virtual meetings are convenient, they cannot replace in-person interaction. It is time to approach this pandemic with mental health on our list of priorities and to treat it as an important health concern. Of course, the first way we must do this is by following social distancing orders and protecting yourself and others in attempts to slow the spread of the virus. Additionally, companies and organizations should implement social media campaigns to reduce stress, fear, and loneliness within the general population. Members of the community should help each other by providing social support and maintaining social connections.
Although these things may seem repetitive to talk about, it is imperative to be aware of our mental health, especially in current circumstances. There will come a day when we can resume the life we know and love, but until then, connect with a friend you haven't talked to in a while. Make time to enjoy new activities. Take breaks from work and other duties. And most importantly, know your own emotional health.