Although confinement is helping to combat the coronavirus pandemic, it is also putting citizens’ mental health at risk. During these days, psychologists repeat that confinement can increase feelings of anguish, catastrophic thoughts and even generate depressive symptoms. However, it is too early to know how the current situation is changing us: there are still not enough data and nobody dares to venture what the consequences of this crisis will be on the mental health of citizens. So at times like these, the World Health Organization recommends that researchers do quick reviews of research done to date in similar situations.
The revision The psychological impact of quarantine and how to reduce it, published in the magazine The Lancet Last month, he analyzed the conclusions of different studies carried out at other times where citizens have had to live in confinement. The objective is to find which factors improve our psychological adaptation and which worsen it. Some of these investigations include analyzing the effects of quarantine during the 2003 SARS outbreak in areas of China and Canada, or confinement during the 2014 Ebola outbreak in entire villages in many West African countries.
Most of the studies reviewed reported negative psychological effects, including post-traumatic stress symptoms, confusion, and a tendency to be more irascible after confinement. The intensity of symptoms increases in epidemics in which the quarantine is longer, if citizens fear becoming infected, are frustrated, become bored, if they lack supplies or if they fear economic loss. “Some researchers have suggested significant lasting effects,” the review picks up.
Quarantine in due measure
According to the research carried out to date, the longer the quarantine, the more the mental health of citizens is affected. “It stands to reason that the stressful symptoms experienced by participants have more effect the longer they are experienced,” the report explains. “The advisable thing to minimize harm to citizens’ mental health is to restrict the duration of quarantine to what is scientifically reasonable taking into account incubation periods and not to take an overly cautious approach.”
For people who are already in quarantine, increasing the duration, even if only a little, can increase any feeling of frustration or demoralization. But that seems like a better strategy than indefinite quarantine. Imposing confinement without a clear time limit, as was done in Wuhan, China, could be more damaging than periods limited to incubation time.
Long-lasting effects months and even years after quarantine
Feeling anxious or having depressive symptoms during the quarantine period is not surprising: citizens live weeks of uncertainty protecting themselves from a global pandemic. However, the evidence says that these psychological effects can still be detected months or years later. The review suggests that it is necessary to ensure that effective mitigation measures are implemented as part of the quarantine planning process.
Having a history of mental illness is associated with more negative consequences
A history of psychiatric illness was found to be associated with experiencing anxiety and irascibility four to six months after completion of quarantine in one of the reviewed studies. More specifically, previous literature suggests that a history of mental illness is associated with psychological distress after experiencing any disaster-related trauma. “People with pre-existing mental health problems are likely to need additional support during quarantine,” the report reads.
Health workers also suffer more
One of the sectors of the population most exposed to the virus is also the one that suffers the most from the psychological consequences even after controlling for the pandemic. Restrooms experience more severe symptoms of post-traumatic stress than members of the general public. Also emotions related to frustration, guilt, helplessness, loneliness and sadness. “Health workers were also much more likely to think they had SARS and to worry about infecting others,” as is happening with the coronavirus.
Financial loss makes it more likely to develop mental disorders
Beyond the virus, another of the main concerns of citizens right now is the economic repercussions: the loss of jobs and the inability to face expenses such as mortgages, rent or bills. In the reviewed studies, financial loss as a result of quarantine created severe socioeconomic distress and was found to be a risk factor for developing symptoms of mental and anxiety disorders even several months after quarantine.
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