The ‘accelerator effect’ of COVID-19 will prove particularly damaging in the area of mental health. The relatively rapid rate of urbanisation across the globe has often been cited as one of the drivers of certain types of mental health conditions. Even in normal times, for young people leaving families in rural areas and moving to impersonal cities for further education or work can be very stressful, exacerbated by the more negative effects of social media.
After the experience of COVID-19, pre-existing conditions may be exacerbated. Loneliness, anxiety and depression during periods of enforced limitation of movement, despair at treatments for chronic physical conditions being postponed, post-traumatic stress disorder (and not only for front line medical professionals) will likely take time to manifest themselves completely, but the social and economic cost will grow unhalted for some time.
For many, the sustained stress of uncertainty over job security and the consequent lack of cash flows, health security and insufficient savings may become triggers for hitherto controlled mental health conditions.
Pre-existing conditions are expected to accelerate and intensify and conditions such as anger management or addictions such as alcoholism clearly make the sufferer a danger to other household members, perhaps ending efforts to control and assuage them.
Unfortunately, the nature of these illnesses is often tough to diagnose in normal times, so there may well be an increase of cases over a long period of time, adding strain on the capacity of the relevant health systems.
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Mental health is going to become a centre of focus for the health care sector for a number of reasons. The first is that our society has progressed enough that emotional pain is being placed on equal terms with physical pain in terms of social recognition. Schools are an integral part of that process. For example, last year when my eldest daughter was preparting for high school entry exams, her homeroom teacher made the none too subtle point that children with a mental health diagnosis are offered more time in exams. Talking about mental illness will be enhanced as we come out of the social distancing phase. Stress and mental anguish have been major factors in the lockdowns with many people exhibiting symptoms of PTSD. That’s only likely to be exacerbated by the onset of winter.