Dr. Jacqueline Parsons
Coronavirus and Mental Health, Part 1
TWO PANDEMICS - PUBLIC HEALTH PANDEMIC AND ECONOMIC PANDEMIC
In this unprecedented age of coronavirus, the world's population is dealing with two pandemics, a public health pandemic and an economic pandemic. Both are having significant impacts on mental health. Existing mental health issues are exacerbated, and new mental health challenges are developing because of several factors, including self-isolation, job loss, school closures, uncertainty, and fear. As a result, the world is experiencing a global mental health crisis. In December 2019, few were familiar with the term coronavirus. But in recent months, the mandatory closure of nonessential businesses has produced a tsunami of job layoffs, with the US experiencing over 22 million people filing for unemployment benefits in the past few weeks. COVID 19 is a revolutionary agent of change. Across the globe, everyday lives have been transformed. Traditional greeting rituals such as shaking hands or hugging a friend are verboten because of the possibility of community spread. Zoom phone meetings have replaced traditional face to face meetings, grocery stores have long entrance lines and toilet paper has become a hot commodity. Food supply and demand is in chaos. Grocery stores are experiencing unprecedented demands, as are food banks. Shelves are empty, and there is an anticipated food shortage. Foods that are typically imported, such as grain, rice, and beans, are in short supply because of closed borders, and meat processing plants are shutting down because of contagion spread among employees. Ironically, farmers are dumping milk, smashing eggs, and destroying crops that were sold to restaurants and grocery stores in the past. The news of perishable excess farmers are destroying can be devastating for those with little or nothing to eat. Fear is rampant as people worry about basic life necessities, such as food, water, shelter, and clothing. In 2020, basic needs have expanded to include healthcare, sanitation, education, and the Internet. Unfortunately, many are forced to go without essential necessities. The only thing plentiful for many in the age of COVID 19 is despair. If ever there was a book one should read, it is "Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism," published in 2020. The authors, Princeton economist Anne Case and fellow Princeton Economist and Nobel Laureate Angus Deaton, wrote about how despair impacts specific populations. The coined phrase, deaths of despair, include drug overdoses, suicides, and end-stage liver disease due to alcohol abuse. These data-driven soothsayers, Case and Deaton, are forecasting what specific populations may face during the coronavirus and economic pandemics: despair driven suicides and substance abuse related premature deaths. Current statistics support the substance abuse hypothesis; online alcohol sales have increased by 243%, and in the week of March 21, alcohol sales increased by 55% (Marketwatch.com, April, 2020). The population Case and Deaton wrote about were midlife, poorly educated, non-Hispanic white men with little social support and unhealthy coping mechanisms. This population will probably continue to be affected during the two pandemics. The community participating in acts of despair, potentially leading to deaths of despair, may expand to include the nonessential small business owner whose livelihood has been pummeled with forced closures. In the US, coronavirus stimulus package small business loans have been plagued with problems and are now out of money. For some owners, these loans were their last modicum of hope. In these times of contagion based instability and uncertainly, seeking support for mental health issues is important and can be life-saving. Whether it is online, in a therapist's office, on a hotline, or through supportive conversations with a trusted friend, people should consider reaching out for help. When someone admits their fear, they may help someone else who is experiencing similar feelings but are too embarrassed or afraid to admit it. Feeling stressed because of the coronavirus is now a universal experience. For those that have or are around children, it is imperative to practice healthy coping mechanisms, as children imitate the behavior they see demonstrated by adults. Also, practicing good mental health hygiene can positively impact other adults in the home. Please realize anxiety is not always bad. Anxiety is a protective response, warning an individual about a potentially harmful situation. Normalizing that healthy anxiety about the coronavirus is reasonable because COVID 19 can and does kill.
Citizens across the globe are experiencing challenges to mental health because of stress exacerbated by the twin pandemics of coronavirus. Now more than ever, it is imperative to practice good mental health hygiene. If the global mental heath crisis is not addressed, the world may experience a third pandemic; a pandemic of mental illness.