The Hidden Pandemic Within COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has shaken the world, and resulted in a tremendous shift in almost everyone’s life. Due to safety precautions, non-essential businesses had to close, and schools moved to remote learning. Because of these closures, many people either began working/learning from home, or were let go from their jobs. As people began panicking about the pandemic, other consequences began to settle in: loss of job, loss of income, social distancing and isolation, sick loved ones, etc. There were many side effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, and all could severely negatively impact mental health. With the already increasing suicide rate at historic highs before the COVID-19 pandemic, many health experts are worried about higher suicide rates. The National Alliance on Mental Illness HelpLine has had a 65% increase in contact since March, and there is a trend of rises in suicides during other health crises and economic recessions. Many are struggling to cope with the economic stress, social isolation, and increased anxiety due to the circumstances. Although some may find social distancing and quarantine to be refreshing and convenient, the COVID-19 pandemic is negatively affecting mental health due to economic uncertainty, stress, isolation, and loneliness, thus resulting in a higher mental illness rate.

Economic Uncertainty, Stress, and Mental Illness

One of the main consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic is that unemployment rates have spiked tremendously, which may result in high-stress levels and mental health issues. Due to businesses closing and customers staying home, many have lost their jobs and are unable to find new ones. The United States unemployment rate climbed to a record high of 14.7% in April 2020, from a 4.4% unemployment rate in March 2020. This number is higher than anything since the Great Depression, as 20.5 million jobs were removed from the United States. Due to the economic strain that the pandemic is causing on many individuals and families, many are feeling stressed out and overwhelmed during the pandemic. According to Hugh F. Butts, who published an article in the Journal of the National Medical Association, “economic privation and stress increase vulnerability to mental illness, especially in a minority population for whom health, mental health, educational, and social services are grossly inadequate”. This means that those who are struggling financially are more likely to have a mental illness, and because the pandemic is increasing money stress, more people are at risk. Furthermore, a University of Utah professor found that “money is definitely linked to happiness,” and that the “average income globally for optimum life satisfaction is $95,000 for an individual”. With the pandemic circumstances, most people are not even close to this income, and are facing home evictions or homelessness. This fiscal uncertainty has resulted in increased stress in many, with 47% of U.S. workers reporting a lot of financial stress one month into the pandemic. The increased stress may lead to “serious health problems… including mental disorders such as depression or anxiety,” according to the National Institute of Mental Health

Isolation and Loneliness Breed Mental Illness

Many college students are experiencing a more isolated and lonely experience due to COVID-19. According to John Koetsier of Forbes, 16% of college students are more lonely, 11% are more anxious, and 20% are more depressed. Due to social distancing guidelines and quarantine requirements, many people have been in isolation or not physically in the presence of many. According to this study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, “more Americans are dealing with the mental health effects of spending more time indoors, away from loved ones”. Many are worrying that students’ mental health will continue to deteriorate, as even before the coronavirus, more than 40% of students have felt “so depressed that it was difficult to function”. With increased loneliness brings increased mental health risks. According to Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a Brigham Young University professor, “lack of social connection heightens health risks as much as smoking 15 cigarettes a day or having alcohol use disorder,” and “loneliness and social isolation are twice as harmful to physical and mental health as obesity”. Furthermore, “there is robust evidence that social isolation and loneliness significantly increase risk for premature mortality,” says Holt-Lunstad. Evidently, isolation and loneliness breed mental illness – and COVID-19 is the perfect generator for isolation. 

Not All Experiences Are The Same

Now that the previous evidence has been stated, it doesn’t mean that all experiences during quarantine are the same. Some may find social distancing and quarantine to be refreshing or convenient, while others may feel isolated and alone. While a positive experience is definitely possible and valid, countless others are having negative experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic, and we should focus on helping them. Those who were already struggling mentally could be having an extremely difficult time coping, while those who were mentally stable before could be overwhelmed and highly stressed. Regardless of our own experiences, we should make sure mental illness help is a priority during this time. 

Possible solutions to the higher risk of mental illness could be online therapy through video calling. These should be extremely low cost, or ideally free, allowing for more people to participate and get help. This would allow for social distancing measures to remain intact, but also let people acquire help for any mental struggles they may be experiencing. Additionally, mental illness awareness should be increased, especially during these trying times, as many more are at risk of mental health issues. Educating others on mental health is important so that people are able to recognize the signs and symptoms of any mental illnesses and are prepared to help or get support. Besides support and awareness, more remote job opportunities should be created, and more unemployment checks should be given due to the unprecedented situation. With more job opportunities, less people will be unemployed and therefore lower their stress levels. 

Fighting One Pandemic Within Another

As evident, mental health issues are at higher risk due to COVID-19. The loss of jobs and job opportunities are resulting in higher levels of stress, which in turn results in increased mental health problems. Additionally, with many lonely in isolation and quarantine, there are even more mental struggles at high risk, such as depression and anxiety. To combat these mental illnesses, people should be educated and aware of the situation. Furthermore, people should have access to online therapy sessions at little to no cost, in order to get the support that they need. Additionally, more online jobs should be created to keep people healthy while reducing financial struggles. We need to help each other through this stressful and uncertain time, as that is the only way we will all get through this. Help raise awareness for the higher risk mental illnesses, and make sure to be there for one another.