Welcome back to the exciting conclusion of our deep dive into the neuropsychological effects of COVID-19. Today we will be looking at the indirect ways in which COVID has changed our neurological landscape. The side-effects we will be looking at today revolve around the social and emotional trauma surrounding all aspects of this pandemic!
Let’s begin by discussing the traumatic nature of a COVID-19 diagnosis. Due to the infectious nature of the disease a COVID-19 diagnosis has a significant number of social factors that compound the stress of a positive COVID test. Let’s be honest, there is significant stigma associated with a COVID diagnosis. It has become commonplace to assume that someone who contracts COVID was not following proper social distancing guidelines (Merschel, 2020). However, we believe this is not the right attitude to have. Regardless of what decisions were made, each human life is valuable and further stigmatizing a person with a potentially life-threatening illness only adds to the burden they carry, further worsening health outcomes. Additionally, stigmatizing the diagnosis only makes people less willing to come forward and let others know about their positivity, further increasing the risk of spread (Rogers & Bloomberg, 2021).
For individuals who were hospitalized with COVID, the indirect psychiatric effects are even clearer. Several large studies have found significant increases in anxiety and depression in patients previously hospitalized for COVID, with most estimates suggesting that between 15-20% will go on to develop PTSD from their experiences (Chen et al., 2021; Tarisanti et al., 2021).
Next, let's look at the impact of social distancing on mental health. While the reduction or elimination of in-person social engagement has been imperative in our fight against this virus, I think we can all agree that it has been incredibly difficult emotionally. Humans are naturally social creatures. It is through social support that we are able to maintain resiliency and stave off the deleterious effects of chronic stress (Umberson & Karas, 2010). Social distancing guidelines have drastically reduced our access to social support, and it should be no surprise that this is thought to be a contributing factor to the increased severity of existing mental illness and the onset of new mental illness (Pedrosa & Bitencourt, 2020; Marroquin, Vine, & Morgan, 2020). All of this said, we still believe in the importance of social distancing and following CDC guidelines. Realistically, it is about balancing risk. While the negative mental health effects of social distancing are clear, we believe that the negative mental health effects (not to mention physical health effects) of not social distancing would have been far more severe (imagine hundreds of millions, if not billions of cases and the impact that could have on both society, our health care systems, and life as we know it)!
Lastly, I’d like to look at challenges seen in several specific demographics with regards to this pandemic. Many of us would agree that our oldest and youngest populations were hit the hardest by this pandemic. For many elderly individuals, a COVID diagnosis could be a death sentence. To compound the complications, social isolation in elderly adults is associated with increased rate of cognitive decline (Lara et al., 2019). For children, the negative effects of social isolation are further compounded due to the fact that their brains and bodies are still developing. Additionally, the added hurdles that come with online education has the potential to further stratify performance between low-income and high-income families (adding to the systemic inequalities and contributing to overall poorer outcomes) (Delomi & Pisanti, 2020).
With each passing day we are learning more and more about the extensive biological, psychological, and social impact that COVID-19 has had on all of our lives. While it may have been difficult to all come together during the pandemic, let’s come together now to end it! We are stronger than this virus and together we can overcome it, but to do so we need to arm ourselves with immunity. If you are unsure of where or how to get vaccinated and you live in the United States, text your zip code to 438829 or call 1-800-232-0233 and you will be provided with a list of locations near you that offer appointments!