Covid-19 is Making Us Worry and That Can Be Deadly
A pandemic and “infodemic” are causing a global mental health crisis
I worry about things big and small; I worry my daughter will freeze if she doesn’t zip her coat; I worry rich people like Elon Musk are obsessed with space travel because they know our planet is doomed. I worry about Covid-19.
My family calls me the “Worrier Princess.”
Now it seems I have something new to worry about: Covid-19 is causing us to worry even more and that’s terrible for our health. Potentially deadly, in fact.
Global Mental Health Crisis
Experts say uncertainty and fear of contagion, isolation and socio-economic disruption are leading to a worldwide mental health crisis. The virus is hitting hardest people already suffering from mental health issues such as illness anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and depression— and particularly as they may lack access to mental health services.
The pandemic is also harming the so-called “worried well” — relatively healthy people affected by the virus — who feel anxious about catching it or being lonely in lockdown or are worried about losing their jobs.
Such stress is leading to poor sleep (✓), excessive use of the Internet and social media (✓), lack of exercise (✓), poor nutrition (not so much) and substance abuse (define substance abuse).
Anxiety Can Kill
For people with mental illness, the pandemic can act as a trigger. If left unchecked it can worsen conditions, and in extreme cases, lead to suicide.
Although the effect of the pandemic on global suicide rates has yet to be determined, anecodotal evidence is piling up. Japan — a nation that has handled the crisis better than many with relatively fewer infections, hospitalizations and deaths — is seeing an alarming spike in suicides. In October, more people in Japan died from suicide (2,158) than from coronavirus (1,765) — reversing a 40-year low suicide rate in 2019.
In the UK, a charity recently reported that following the announcement of a third lockdown in early January, daily views of its mental health charity website surged; meanwhile a UK parents helpline is fielding calls about anxiety, depression and self-harm.
It’s no surprise kids are stressed by the pandemic. Yesterday (Jan. 13) a children’s hospital in Jacksonville, Florida reported a 300% increase in emergency visits related to mental health, as compared to the same period last year. More than 700 children required immediate mental health hospitalization, some following overdoses resulting from depression and anxiety.
A Parallel “Infodemic”
People’s anxiety is worsened by a “parallel infodemic”, according to researchers. Watching body bags pile up at hospitals and news of local people dying, coupled with ambiguous (or outright misinformation) about the virus itself and ways to protect ourselves is, not surprisingly, bad for our mental wellbeing.
Early last year, the World Health Organisation’s Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned: “We’re not just fighting a pandemic; we’re fighting an infodemic.”
Fake news, misinformation, and conspiracy theories have skyrocketed via social media since the start of the pandemic, undermining trust in health institutions and health programs, according to a report in The Lancet.
The report continues that misinformation is exacerbated by an overwhelming number of sensationalist quick hit media stories rather than “carefully worded scientific messages with a balanced interpretation.” This infodemic erodes public trust and creates a sense of helplessness, which are ideal conditions for spreading more misinformation. It’s a vicious circle.