The Gender Security Project
A Review of the Impact of COVID-19 on Mental Health
Written by Sophia Paige Brink
In the wake of the pandemic that has altered the realities of the global world, the impact of COVID-19 on mental health must be reviewed in order to create strategies that prevent the negative effects of trauma, PTSD, and depression. Poor mental health can contribute to disastrous physical health effects, including insomnia, malnutrition, and neurochemical brain imbalances. In addition, the impact of COVID-19 puts vulnerable populations more at risk for negative mental health. Such populations include poverty-stricken communities, domestic violence survivors, minorities and the LGBTQI+ community, and people with mental, neurological, and/or chronic disabilities.
COVID-19 and the Working Population:
The impact of COVID-19 on the mental health of the general population includes lack of structure, loneliness, anxiety, trauma, and depression. While some people are able to work from home, the majority of workers across the globe are unable to work from home as they live paycheck-to-paycheck in service-related industries in order to survive. These workers include immunocompromised patients who must work to feed themselves and their families. These populations live in fear of contracting the virus and infecting their families and loved ones. Although some state and local governments may pass emergency funding to aid these workers, the funding is usually not enough, especially for those who live in countries and communities where there is an unequal access to housing and security.
In the presence of this global emergency, suicide hotlines have been overflooded with calls from people experiencing mental health crisises. Work from home policies protect workers, however, the pressure to work to the highest standards in an environment that is grim with news of illness, disaster, and death sparks depressive, anxious, and suicidal episodes that workplaces do not generally support.
COVID-19 and poverty-stricken communities & the homeless population
While some workplaces may aid workers with paid leave and benefits, workers in poverty-stricken communities are forced to stay indoors where they have little or no access to the appropriate hygiene, physical safety, and mental space to cope with the pandemic. For example, many families live in cars or one-bedroom flats. Staying in such cramped and uncomfortable indoors for long periods of time contributes to hopelessness, trauma, and depression. People in such environments are often unable to follow healthy mental coping mechanisms. Even so, living in conditions with the inappropriate access to hygiene and safety measures make people more susceptible for contracting COVID-19.
In various countries, shelter-in-place has been ordered. Some countries are housing the homeless population in shelters, hotels, or community spaces to prevent the spread of the virus in the homeless community. However, some people who are homeless fear to attend shelter-in-places as they were physically attacked or raped in shelters previously or experienced trauma by witnessing rape, crises, and physical altercations that can sometimes occur in shelters. Even so, in countries that are not aiding the homeless population to acquire shelter during the pandemic, these homeless populations are experiencing significant mental health crises that can arise to suicidal ideation and suicide.
COVID-19 and survivors of Domestic & Structural Violence
Recent research has found that COVID-19 impacts victims of domestic violence and contributes to rates of domestic violence across the globe as victims are forced to stay indoors with abusive perpetrators with a limited access to police enforcement emergency services.
COVID-19 also impacts survivors of domestic and structural violence. Survivors of domestic and structural violence are more likely to experience depression, anxiety, and PTSD. In order to cope with past mental and/or physical trauma, survivors utilize a variety of therapy techniques, including psychological counseling, meditation, and/or physical or occupational therapies. Some therapeutic services are limited when indoors. Additionally, survivors may re-experience past trauma due to the sudden lack of structure and sense of emergency that severely impacts their routine.
COVID-19 and the LGBTQI+ community & minorities
LGBTQI+ individuals and minorities across the globe experience discrimination, stigma, and an unequal access to services and resources. While there is a global fight for their equal rights to this day, COVID-19 has forced these populations to experience a greater mental health crisis with an even more limited access to resources and services.
LGBTQI+ individuals make up the majority (40 % in the U.S.A.) of runaway youth who escape abusive households. While these individuals may be able to access shelter-in-place in some countries, the majority of these individuals across the world will be unable to safely access a shelter and therefore will be more likely to experience depression, panic, isolation, malnutrition, and suicidal ideation.
There has been an increase in the persecution of religious and ethnic minorities across the world. In China, Uighur Muslims have been tortured and placed in concentration camps — a severe violation of human rights. And during the pandemic, Uuigur Muslims have been forced to work in factories throughout China and in cramped conditions making them vulnerable to COVID-19. A severe violation of human rights in the midst of a pandemic and global disaster strains mental health and forces individuals to consider detrimental measures like suicide as the only option.
COVID-19, the chronically-ill population & individuals with mental and neurological disorders
Those with chronic illnesses often experience mental health hardships and struggles. However, in the climate of the pandemic, chronically-ill patients are more likely to experience helplessness and depression as they are unable to appropriately access resources and services.
Individuals with mental health struggles or disorders like depression and OCD are experiencing an increased risk of a mental health breakdown. Those with neurological disorders, like autism spectrum disorder, are sometimes unable to understand the pandemic or how to appropriately cope with the pandemic. Therefore, they are more likely to experience panic, insomnia, anxiety, and severe mental distress.
COVID-19 and Mental Health: Solutions
Governments, workplaces, and public health organizations must actively create services and resources that guard positive mental health for their communities. These services can include but are not limited to:
Housing Equality: Families and individuals must live in spaces that are equipped with appropriate safety and hygiene support. State and local governments must actively create housings that are ideal for safety and place control in pricing and rental structures, if required.
Mental Health in the Workplace: All workplaces should be required to place policies and services that promote positive mental health.
Hygiene in the Public Space: Cities and states should regularly clean and sanitize public spaces, including public spaces in neighborhoods. Poverty-stricken communities should not have an unequal access to sanitation.
Mental Health Support Services: State and local governments must enforce mental health support services for the home, school, community, and individual.
Human Rights: Mental Health is Human Rights and Human Rights is Mental Health. Discrimination, stigma, poverty, and social injustices are always correlated with negative mental health and therefore should be prevented at any and all levels of the global world.
“Mental Health and Coping During COVID-19 | CDC.” https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/managing-stress-anxiety.html. Accessed 30 Mar. 2020.
“Using Cognitive Neuroscience to Improve Mental Health ….” 27 Apr. 2019, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30505392. Accessed 30 Mar. 2020.
“Groups say LGBTQ people more vulnerable to Coronavirus.” 12 Mar. 2020, https://www.washingtonblade.com/2020/03/12/groups-say-lgbtq-people-more-vulnerable-to-coronavirus/. Accessed 30 Mar. 2020.