While social distancing and other lockdown and preventative measures have worked to reduce the occurrence of Covid-19 cases, they have had a negative effect on the mental wellbeing of a lot of individuals. Mental healthcare barriers, job loss, loss of childcare, and the loss of family and loved ones have contributed to the stresses and worries that have accumulated during the lockdown periods. A primary source of the worries is often economic in nature, with the decrease of financial security often affecting both increased mental health issues and substance abuse. Due to social distancing and lockdown measures, a substantial amount of children are unable to attend school due to school closures. This created additional pressure for parents who both work from home or were obligated to continue working during lockdown periods. The groups most affected by mental health issues in relation to the pandemic have been young people and women, especially mothers.
Mental health issues that are directly related to social distancing and lockdown measures often include isolation. Significant research that has been conducted provided links between widespread social isolation and poor mental and physical health. Loneliness, a factor prevalent in social isolation, has been a concern for health, often related to reduced lifespans, amplified by the events of the pandemic. As of March 2020, within the initial issuing of stay-at-home orders, individuals that had been sheltering-in-place had reported higher rates of negative mental health effects (Panchal et al., 2021). An additional effect of both isolation and issues induced by the pandemic, such as financial loss, resulted in higher cases of reporting poor mental health but also revealed the inability of many individuals to acquire adequate mental health care and services.
Both worries surrounding the pandemic and the consequential economic recession have had a detrimental effect on mental health. They have also led to further barriers for those with mental health issues and substance abuse disorders. Prior to the pandemic, only one in ten adults had reported depressive disorders and anxiety symptoms, while the number had increased to one in four during the pandemic. Specific negative impacts have also been recorded with individuals experiencing issues with sleeping, eating, worsening chronic illnesses, and increases of alcohol consumption or substance use.
While isolation and concerns of exposure to the virus contribute to worsening mental health, financial insecurity is the likely primary source as many instances of poor mental health are directly related to job loss or risks of losing personal finances. Groups that have been vulnerable to poor mental health and substance abuse prior to the pandemic, such as young adults, parents and children, communities of color, people experiencing job loss, and essential workers, have reported increased cases of substance abuse during the lockdown periods. Research has indicated the economic downturns and job loss are directly related to increased depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and higher rates of substance abuse disorders or even suicide. As such, young adults who had lost jobs or education and individuals in low-income households have been severely affected by the economic effects of the pandemic’s preventative measures. Not only had prior rates of substance abuse increased but new ones were reported with more frequency, alongside reported thoughts of suicide. Individuals with mental health effects from both coronavirus, isolation, and financial stress were and are experiencing barriers to adequate care, often due to unavailability or costs, which continues to fuel symptoms of substance abuse and suicide ideation.
Panchal, N., Kamal, R., Cox, C., & Garfield, R. (2021). The Implications of COVID-19 for Mental Health and Substance Use. KFF. Web.