The coronavirus outbreak could have long-term psychological effects, according to Yale University psychologist Dr. Eli Lebowitz, who said the pandemic is “something of uncharted territory.”
People around the globe are practicing social isolation, a preventive measure against the virus, but also a risk factor for anxiety and depression, according to Dr. Lebowitz. Government lockdowns like those in Italy and Kuwait have mandated social separation, while individuals in other countries are voluntarily choosing to isolate from others to avert potential infection.
“The psychological impact can have long term effects, but it's hard to estimate the duration. This is something of uncharted territory,” said Dr. Lebowitz, director of the Program for Anxiety Disorders at the Yale Child Study Center, in an interview with Al Arabiya English.
Social distancing, as well as the feeling of panic, will have mental health consequences, according to Yale University professor of epidemiology Dr. Kaveh Khoshnood.
“We should not neglect the mental health toll of this outbreak. There is much fear and anxiety and that can drive self-harming behaviors,” said Dr. Khoshnood in an interview with Al Arabiya English.
“Some people don’t know how to manage their anxiety and fear and are turning to substance use to give them temporary relief,” he added.
The outbreak is producing a wide range of emotions that negatively impact psychological wellbeing, including disappointment about cancelled events, helplessness in the face of a large threat, and worthlessness for those who cannot go to work.
The way the coronavirus is affecting the lives of people around the world is similar to a wartime situation, according to Dr. Lebowitz. Over 7,000 people have died from the virus around the globe. Governments are mobilizing soldiers and police officers to halt the spread, economies are suffering, and people are hunkering down in their homes.
Mitigating the virus’ psychological scars can start now by ensuring people have access to care and security for their finances, according to Dr. Lebowitz, who stressed that people must try to maintain routine.
“Maintaining routines as much as possible will make it easier to return to ‘normal life’ once the crisis is passed,” he said.
Keeping in touch with family and friends, physical activity, getting proper sleep, and eating nutritiously, are all recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) during this time.
Knowing that one is not alone in this crisis can also alleviate stressful situations.
“The knowledge that ‘we are all in this together’ to at least some extent may be helpful to some people in coping with the challenge,” said Dr. Lebowitz.