Since the COVID-19 outbreak first began, millions of lives have been transformed. Although social distancing measures and stay-home orders are necessary to stop the spread and protect communities around the globe, experts are concerned about the public’s mental health. Numerous reports have addressed the COVID-19 crisis and the toll it is currently taking on the mental health of Americans.

Here’s what you need to know about the importance of social distancing, as well as the possible consequences as anticipated by mental health experts.

COVID-19 Has Forced Millions to Practice Social Distancing — What Does That Mean?

Many are practicing social distancing. However, unless the public fully understands what this measure entails, it will not be as effective as it is intended to be. As stated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, social distancing, in this case, means, “keeping your distance to slow the spread.”

Social or “physical distancing” simply means keeping distance between yourself and others who do not live within your household. At this time, you are being advised to:

  • Stay a minimum of 6 feet from others
  • Avoid groups of people
  • Stay out of any areas that be crowded

These recommendations are so important because if COVID-spreads when an infected individual talks, sneezes, or coughs, causing infected droplets to go into the air, landing in the mouths or noses of those nearby. Considering as many as 50 percent of people with COVID-19 are not aware that they have the virus, it can spread rapidly when social distancing is not practiced.

While current social distancing regulations are not fully known at this time, one key study reported that intermittent periods of social distancing may be required into 2022. The goal here would be to not overwhelm the health care system, as there are concerns surrounding the transmission of COVID-19 during the winter season.

The researchers from Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health stated that they acknowledge the economic fallout in response to COVID-19, and that they are not advocating for one course of action over another. However, they are remaining mindful of the possible “catastrophic” burden on the health care system if distancing is not sustained for long enough.

Social Distancing Is Important, But It May Negatively Impact Your Mental Health

As reported in a recent 2020 review, various negative psychological effects have been documented in relation to quarantine. The effects include confusion, post-traumatic stress symptoms, sadness, anxiety, and anger. While focusing on some of the major stressors, the researchers listed inadequate supplies, quarantine duration, frustration, boredom, financial loss, infection fears, and stigma as contributing factors.

Numerous studies have begun in order to better understand the psychological implications of social distancing and self-isolation, and according to early reports, social distancing may be harming mental health more than it is impacting physical health. Although there are many great apps to stay connected, including Zoom and Hangout, researchers are concerned that they are not enough.

As of mid-April, 2020, nearly a quarter of 18 to 44-year-olds say that they are already experiencing negative emotional and mental health consequences due to the effects of quarantine. Mental health experts are concerned that these effects may be long-lasting, as past research has shown that the psychological implications of quarantine may be detected months or even years later.

Be Mindful of the Mentally Vulnerable, Seeking Help for Yourself or Others

There are people who are particularly vulnerable to the psychological implications of quarantine, including those who have a history of psychiatric illnesses. For example, if you were diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, the helplessness and lack of control you currently feel due to COVID-19, may exacerbate your symptoms.

If you or a loved one were living with a mental illness or substance abuse disorder prior to the current social distancing measures, it is imperative that you continue treatment. Whether that means entering an intensive outpatient program or scheduling virtual therapy sessions, now is not the time to put your mental health needs on hold.

How to Cope During This Difficult Time

During this time, it is important to plan ahead so that you have access to the psychosocial support you need. In order to more effectively cope with social distancing measures and psychological stress, take the following steps.

Limit your media consumption

Although it is important to stay informed, relying on reputable sources, it is also important to limit your news consumption — especially on social media. While social media does distribute knowledge, not all sources are reliable. There are social media bots that spread fake news and fear, which is causing anxiety levels to rise.

Trusted sources include but are not limited to: The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and the World Health Organization (WHO).

Maintain a healthy, structured lifestyle

If you are not currently working at the moment, that does not mean that you cannot establish a daily routine. This will help you achieve some level of normalcy, especially if you have children in your home who are out-of-school. Make sleep, exercise, and healthy eating a priority in order to support both your mental and physical health.

Stay connected

There are dozens of apps available to remain connected with friends and family during this time. Just as you would schedule activities into your daily routine, schedule time to virtually connect with others. You should also work closely with your therapist in order to actively support your mental health during this uncertain time.

Struggling with your mental health? Fearful that you will relapse during this time? Regardless of your concerns, we’re here to help — contact us today!