The past few months have brought many challenges, particularly for healthcare professionals, workers, students, family members of COVID-19 patients, people with mental disorders and more generally people in disadvantaged socio-economic conditions. The economic impact of the pandemic may in fact hinder progress towards economic growth as well as progress towards social inclusion and mental well-being.
The COVID-19 pandemic and its containment measures—mainly physical distancing and isolation—are having detrimental consequences on the mental health of the population worldwide, such as frustration, loneliness, and worries about the future. These are common reactions and represent risk factors for several mental disorders, for example anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorders and psychoses.
The pandemic represents a unique event; the threat can be everywhere and can be carried by every person next to us. Therefore, people are experiencing extremely high levels of uncertainties, worries about the future and fear of being infected. The longer the pandemic will last the most the ordinary life of the population will be seriously affected.
During quarantine and physical distancing, Internet and the social media can be useful in reducing isolation and increasing opportunities to keep in contact with family members, friends, and co-workers at any time. However, Internet may also represent a risk factor for mental disorders of the most vulnerable people, since it spreads an uncontrolled amount of information.
In the patients the impact on mental health has been mostly neglected during the emergency phase, since infection is a potentially life-threatening condition. Being isolated in the hospital, the danger, the uncertainty about own physical conditions and the fear of dying are risk factors for the development of post-traumatic, anxiety, and depressive symptoms.
As regards the effects on mental health of those working in health care, they might experience burn-out, mental exhaustion, irritability, detachment from reality, and insomnia.
Finally, the pandemic will affect the mental health of people who already suffer from mental health problems, independently from the contact with the virus. If protracted, social isolation may increase the risk of recurrences of episodes of mental disorders; for many people with mental disorders, being alone is a heavy burden, far beyond that experienced by many others.
It is likely that the pandemic will have a detrimental impact on the mental health of adolescents as well, because being exposed to a traumatic event during early life is associated with alterations in the social, emotional, and cognitive development.
Mental health services worldwide are not prepared to manage the short- and long-term consequences of the pandemic. It is necessary to have a clear picture of the impact of the pandemic on mental health and well-being in order to develop appropriate preventive interventions.
It is important to make studies about this and to provide appropriate mental health resources to the population.