There is no doubt that the coronavirus pandemic will have changed the world in many ways – our way of life, the economy, our attitudes to the environment, to our fellow human beings and to life in general. For those who have had the virus, they will be dealing with the physical effects for some weeks and months to come. For these people and for many, many of us Covid-19 will also have had a profound effect on our mental health. Perhaps in ways we may not yet realise or understand.
For some, lockdown and life at home (working, home-schooling, both or neither of those) have caused feelings of isolation, depression, stress and anxiety; feelings which they may never have experienced before and which, even with the lifting of lockdown, may linger and be hard to overcome. Many started the lockdown living on adrenalin as we all had to adapt and to cope to a new way of life, but as people have settled into their new routines, thoughts and feelings of depression anxiety, panic and stress may only now just be coming to the fore.
For those who have tragically lost someone close to them to Covid-19, feelings of bereavement and trauma are commonplace and wholly to be expected, particularly when it has not been possible to be with their loved one in their final moments or to say a proper ‘farewell’ because they have not been permitted to attend a funeral. Even feelings of guilt may surface from the frustration of not being able to do more to help.
Those recovering from the illness itself may find they are not only dealing with a physical recovery, but are also presented with a challenging mental health struggle. Experts are predicting a surge in cases of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) amongst those who have had near-death experiences at the hands of Covid-19. Our heroic healthcare providers during this pandemic have faced unprecedented challenges and risks in caring for Covid-19 patients. The high number of patients whom they have not been able to save and who have sadly not recovered from this virus has also had a deep psychological effect on those caring for them.
In response to this expected surge in cases of PTSD, GPs are being given further written guidelines which will help them be better prepared and able to treat patients showing signs of PTSD. These have been developed specifically in response to the pandemic by mental health professionals and are based on the treatments normally offered to soldiers returning from war.
The effects of the virus are expected to be far-reaching. Specialists in infectious diseases are predicting an increase in the number of cases of ME – otherwise known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) – amongst those recovering from the virus. It is already known that viral infections are one of the triggers of this debilitating condition, so it can be expected that some may have a further cruel blow and develop ME too as they recovery from Covid-19. A large research project has recently received a funding boost of £3.2 million to better understand ME, its genetic traits and links to viral infections including Covid-19.
Whatever the effect, it is important that these conditions are recognised and people feel able to talk about them and to access the help and support they need by talking to family and friends, their GP or a mental health professional. Only then can we all emerge healthier and stronger in the wake of Covid-19.