Mental Health After Pandemic: One Year On

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The early phases of the epidemic and the subsequent lockdowns were difficult for everyone, in their own unique ways. Isolation, unemployment, childcare, and a variety of other difficulties have had a detrimental effect on the mental health (Mental health after pandemic) of a large number of individuals worldwide. Nonetheless, here we are a year later. How are we faring in the face of adversity?

Mental health after pandemic - illustration of woman wearing protective suit and goggles on her head
Mental health after pandemic

COVID-19’s physical health consequences and the numerous fatalities caused by the pandemic have been and continue to be terrible on a worldwide scale.

People were concerned about the emotional toll that losing a loved one would take on themselves, as well as on their friends and neighbors. Many struggled with sadness and loneliness, while others struggled with job loss and financial uncertainty.

MNT has also reported throughout the epidemic on the specific mental health problems encountered by people of color, Indigenous groups, undocumented migrants, and many others whose baseline for mental wellbeing was already lower than the mainstream population.

Healthcare workers on the front lines and others in the caregiving profession encountered comparable emotional difficulties.

What we were doing a year ago

Some people have been compelled to work and have been exposed to the virus, while others have benefitted from working from home.

At the onset of the epidemic, some people benefited from relatively liberal lockdown measures (depending on the nation), while others felt safer via rigorous self-isolation.

Nonetheless, the psychological impacts of lockdown were evident: people reported feeling more anxious, worried, restless, and sleepless.

Numerous studies corroborated this. A tiny but concerning poll conducted in March 2020 indicated a rise in alcohol and cannabis usage among Americans. They most likely turned to these narcotics in an attempt to alleviate the worry and sadness brought on by the epidemic.

According to the same study, a staggering 38% of participants reported feeling exhausted or lacking energy, 36% reported experiencing sleep problems, and 25% reported feeling sad, depressed, or hopeless.

Around 24% of respondents also had difficulties concentrating, 43% reported feeling tense, apprehensive, or on edge, 36% claimed to be unable to quit worrying, and 35% reported having difficulty relaxing.

Other research in the United Kingdom with bigger population samples discovered similar results. 25 percent of participants said that their anxiety and depression considerably worsened during the lockdown, and 37.5 percent matched clinical criteria for generalized anxiety, sadness, or health anxiety at the time (April 2020).

However, a year ago, there was also optimism. Hope that the epidemic will let us slow down, be more attentive, and have more time to contemplate on a mental health level.

MNT readers stated that new work-from-home arrangements are less stressful and more conducive to creativity for those fortunate enough to have them. Working at a more “human face,” as one reader put it, would allow them to be more creative and ecologically conscious.

So, one year later, have any of these aspirations come true? Is the epidemic beneficial to our well-being, or are we all worse off as a result? How has our mental health and well-being altered and grown over the previous year?

What are our current circumstances? (Mental health after pandemic)

Scientists are analyzing massive databases to determine the effect of pandemic containment efforts on people’s mental health. Although the complete image has not yet emerged, we may detect its early contours – and the initial impression is quite dismal.

Researchers are beginning to observe a global “surge” in depression. According to a December 2020 Census Bureau poll, 42% of Americans experienced symptoms of anxiety or despair that month. This was a significant rise above the 11% they recorded in 2019.

Another research on which MNT reported revealed that depression cases in the United States had quadrupled during the epidemic.

The image appears to be consistent around the planet. According to a new Nature paper, depression rates among U.K. people will climb by 9% in June 2020, compared to pre-pandemic levels.

Another survey of inhabitants in the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, and Canada discovered a 14% rise in anxiety as a result of the epidemic.

Notably, the pandemic appears to have had a less severe effect on the mental health of older individuals than on younger adults.

The impact may have been mitigated in this case by the critical aspect of resilience, however, it is worth noting that white older individuals performed better than older adults from historically excluded groups.

Many, but not all, MNT readers acknowledged that conditions had deteriorated rather than improved since the pandemic’s early days from a mental health standpoint.

When expressly asked if things had improved or worse, one MNT reader said, “At this point, deteriorated.” While I am hoping that the vaccination will bring about positive change, how individuals have determined that the virus is no longer a problem is stressful. When you factor in the additional difficulties that have emerged during the [last] year, the tension is amplified.”

“Much worse,” another reader observed. “I’d say my mental health has deteriorated gradually over the last year.”

Another writer said unequivocally, “I am feeling significantly worse a year later.”

Interestingly, some MNT readers pointed out that resistance does not always prevent people from the pandemic’s negative mental health impacts. Even though they feel stronger, this does not translate into emotional well-being.

As one reader put it, “I feel like I’ve become intellectually stronger, but I’ve had to battle stress and loneliness in ways I never anticipated.” [I feel] stronger, but definitely more worn out! I’d say [my mental condition is] deteriorating in general.”

Another reader had a similar sentiment, adding:

“The one good I can admit one year later is that I have a newfound respect for myself and more confidence in my own abilities: I have navigated an isolated, tough, anxiety-inducing time on my own, and I remind myself of my own strength every day.”

Others described this stage as one of emptiness and apathy. “I basically feel numb,” one reader explained. “I get the distinct impression that I go through each day on autopilot,” they continued.

Another reader had a sense of being “separated” from others.

Numerous MNT readers reflect the sentiments expressed in polls at the onset of the epidemic and indicate that these sentiments have been exacerbated. They report a loss of attention, a lack of energy, insomnia, and poor eating habits.

“I’m constantly fatigued. It’s a state of emotional weariness. That said, falling asleep is difficult most nights since it is the only moment throughout the day when no one is expecting anything from me, and my brain begins focusing on every issue, question, or concern I pushed to the side to get through a workday and parenting the children.”

“I’ve been having trouble sleeping,” another reader remarked. “I’m having some nights where I simply lie awake, something I’ve experienced very infrequently in the past. At other times, I awaken from a long sleep feeling weary, although I didn’t accomplish anything throughout the week.”

Numerous readers alluded to a lack of restful sleep. “I am not a night owl, but my sleep is of worse quality, and I frequently do not feel refreshed in the mornings,” one reader explained.

Researchers have raised concern that some of these negative mental health consequences may persist after the epidemic is over. “I don’t believe things will ever return to normal,” clinical psychologist Luana Marques of Harvard Medical School in Boston, MA, told Nature.

Of course, the baseline for some individuals was already extremely low. This adds to their anxiety.

“I have had abnormally high amounts of anxiousness. Older issues I used to have resurfaced and appear to be more overpowering than ever,” one reader said to MNT.

According to another reader:

“I’ve always been a somewhat nervous person, but that element of my personality has risen to the forefront recently. I am perpetually on edge. I no longer find delight in the things I used to enjoy, and panic is my default emotion.”

Loneliness, isolation, and other anxiety-provoking situations (Mental health after pandemic)

While this increase in sadness and anxiety is concerning, it is unsurprising considering the various obstacles the epidemic has thrown our way. Individuals who contacted MNT described persistent symptoms of worry, despair, panic, loneliness, and isolation.

“Over the last year, I’ve withdrawn within myself and found myself reaching out to fewer and fewer friends as if I’ve become accustomed to living alone,” one reader explained.

Readers cited a variety of causes for their anxiety, including concern for one’s own or a loved one’s health, loss of money, loneliness, and having too many parenting duties, to name a few.

“As a single person living alone without access to a support bubble, I’ve grown increasingly isolated,” one reader explained. “And, because my family lives in a foreign country, the fact that I was unable to see them in person for a whole year and was unable to assist them properly through times of illness and sadness has left a lasting impression and made the epidemic more difficult to bear.”

Another reader stated, “The absence of two incomes, the addition of additional changes to work and health, and the inconsistent application of safety regulations (at least in Florida, [United States]) have all taken a toll.” I feel as like I’ve reached my breaking point, and the burden is weighing heavily on each day.”

While some people are stressed out due to a lack of employment, others are overworked.

“As my sense of solitude has become stronger, I’ve developed emotions of powerlessness and anxiety,” one reader observed. “Because I work from home, I find myself working longer hours. Work has grown more demanding and intensive, which causes me to nearly continuously teeter on the verge of burnout.”

‘The changes occurred in waves’

Humans in general — and those with a more scientific bent in particular — tend to seek easily comprehensible patterns, look for neat trends, and neatly wrap reality in a scientific bow.

However, the reality is much more complicated than this. As with the phases of mourning, which seldom develop linearly, tracing an upward or negative trend in mental health under lockdown is similarly challenging.

Numerous MNT readers stated that their Mental health after pandemic has improved in “waves” or “cycles.”

“The changes have occurred in waves,” one reader observed. “At first, the uncertainties and concerns about my health were overpowering, and they took a toll on my mental health.”
“Once adjustments were implemented, masks were required, and our family established a new routine, it was a period of good transformation. My family spent more time together, and daily concerns like getting to appointments on time and rushing through meals gave way to leisurely time spent wandering around the neighborhood and playing board games after dinner.”

“[My mental state] varied from an unusual calm condition, in the beginning, despair about the status of the world, and a present state of awareness (yet again) of the need to act now while still making plans,” another reader explained.

Several scholars reaffirm this opinion, and several studies corroborate it. For instance, Richard Bentall, a clinical psychology professor at the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom, observes that while the lockdown’s effects may have appeared catastrophic in the short term and during the early stages of the pandemic when we zoom out, “a different picture emerges.”

Prof. Bentall’s study indicates “a general decline in the proportion of persons who report ‘above-threshold levels of mental symptoms,” and other research groups have found similar findings.

That is not to argue that conditions have improved in general, he observes. Rather than that, he notes that there are “various slopes for different people,” implying that different groups begin at varying locations in terms of mental health and that the developing, overall story is likely to be complex.

For some, there are advantages. Growth in the aftermath of trauma

Indeed, some individuals may have benefitted from the lockdown. Although this concept may appear incomprehensible to people who are most in need, such beneficial impacts do occur and have been established via study.

The term “post-traumatic growth” refers to this occurrence. According to a recent study conducted by MNT, 88.6 percent of respondents feel that certain benefits have resulted from the physical distance limitations.

For example, about 48% of participants stated that they had a greater appreciation for their families. Additionally, 22% of respondents stated that having their life slowed down, although forcefully, caused them to rethink what is essential and what their own values are.
Another study conducted in a Spanish community discovered that those who were more prone to have post-traumatic growth as a result of the pandemic also shared many psychological characteristics:

  • They were more inclined to believe that the world, in general, was a nice place.
  • They were receptive to the future and tolerant of ambiguity.
  • They were more inclined to connect with and empathize with mankind as a whole than with their own culture specifically.

A sizable proportion of MNT readers appear to fall into this category, and several respondents made specific references to their personal progress in their responses.
“I’d say my mental health has improved throughout the pandemic,” one participant explained, “because I’ve been able to attend meditation sessions and spiritual teachings online rather than traveling everywhere, and so have more opportunities to focus on my personal growth.”

These readers reported feeling physically and psychologically better as a consequence of the lockdown. They stated that they exercise more, consume less alcohol, and sleep better.
“During the epidemic, my mental health has actually improved slightly,” one participant stated. “Before the epidemic, I was experiencing a protracted period of anxiety, and I’ve observed that I’m experiencing far fewer symptoms today. I’m not certain what caused this, but it’s conceivable that the restrictions imposed by a lockdown limited exposure to anxiety-provoking situations.”

“Also, it’s possible that the epidemic caused me to rethink my cognitive habits, which helped alleviate the constant ruminating thoughts I was experiencing.”
Another reader who has also been exposed to COVID-19 stated that they are feeling “[b]etter mentally and emotionally.” Additionally, they are unafraid of the condition now that they have learned more about it.”

Another individual stated, “I’ve been quite optimistic throughout and would have welcomed the slowdown if not for the knock-on impact of mental and physical health difficulties affecting other family members.”

This reader, who also caught SARS-CoV-2, stated that before contracting COVID-19, they were “glad” during the initial lockdown since they avoided commuting and could exercise more each day.

Sleep has also improved for several folks, and also mental health after pandemic. “I’d say my sleep […] has improved as a result of the limitations of a lockdown, which has resulted in a more scheduled bed/wake-up time,” one reader explained. They said, “A silver lining to our predicament is that I’ve been forced to slow down and examine my life’s objectives.” I’ve increased my exercise, improved my sleep, and spent more time on my interests during the last year. In general, I’m feeling better than I have in years.”