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Mental Health and Coping Strategies During COVID-19

Date: 03/26/20

As the coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to spread, the infectious disease outbreak can cause individuals to experience high levels of anxiety, depression and concern. During this time of heightened concern and uncertainty, a patient’s mental health may suffer. While anyone may experience anxiety and increased stress, individuals with a pre-existing mental health condition (including problems with substance abuse) are more likely to notice an increase in these symptoms. Other populations with an higher risk for increased symptoms during this time include children and people who are responding to COVID-19, such as doctors and other health-care providers, or first responders.

Reactions during an infectious disease outbreak can include:

  • Fear and worry about one’s own health status and that of their loved ones who may have or have been exposed to COVID-19.
  • Changes in sleep or eating patterns.
  • Difficulty sleeping or concentrating.
  • Worsening of chronic health problems.
  • Increased use of alcohol, tobacco or other drugs.

Public health emergencies are stressful times for people and communities. Fear and anxiety about a disease can lead to social stigma toward people, places or things. For example, stigma and discrimination can occur when people associate a disease with a population or nationality, even though not everyone in that population or from that region is specifically at risk for the disease. Stigma can also occur after a person has been released from quarantine, even though they are not considered a risk for spreading the virus to others.

Some groups of people who may be experiencing stigma because of COVID-19 include:

  • Persons of Asian descent.
  • People who have recently traveled.
  • Emergency responders or health-care professionals.

Stigma hurts everyone by creating fear or anger towards other people. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Reducing Stigma resource, groups that are stigmatized may be subjected to social avoidance or rejection, denials of health care, education, housing or employment, and even physical violence. All of these reactions to stigma during this time of crisis can lead to increased anxiety, depression and concern.

It is important for providers and public health officials to help counter stigma during the COVID-19 response. A few strategies for doing this include:

  • Maintaining the privacy and confidentiality of those seeking health care and those who may be part of any contact investigation.
  • Quickly communicating the risk or lack of risk from associations with products, people and places.
  • Raising awareness about COVID-19 without increasing fear.
  • Sharing accurate information about how the virus spreads.
  • Speaking out against negative behaviors, including negative statements on social media about groups of people, or exclusion of people who pose no risk from regular activities.
  • Being cautious about any images you or your practice share, ensuring they do not reinforce stereotypes.
  • Engaging with groups that are stigmatized in person and through media channels including news media and social media.
  • Thanking health-care workers and responders. People who have traveled to COVID-19 clusters to assist have performed a valuable service by helping make sure this disease does not spread further.
  • Sharing social support resources for people who have returned from China or are worried about friends or relatives in affected regions.

For more information on mental health and coping strategies during this time, please visit the CDC’s Coronavirus Disease 2019 resource, Manage Anxiety & Stress.