The Mental Health Impact of Covid-19

Oct 14, 2020

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected all our lives but likely in different ways. This week on Mind Tap, we hear personal stories from two medical professionals who share their insights on the mental health consequences of Covid-19.

Image by Miroslava Chrienova from Pixabay

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the guests in this episode are their alone and do not represent the healthcare providers for whom they work. Their opinions arise from anecdotal and non-statistical evidence.  

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected all of our lives but likely in different ways. Arguably, those that have experienced some of the biggest challenges during the pandemic are healthcare professionals. Healthcare professionals have had to adapt to an increasingly dangerous work environment, treat patients with a novel virus, and address the psychological challenges that the virus presents both to their patients and to them.

This week on Mind Tap, I keep the story close to home, asking my mom about her experiences as a Nurse Practitioner during the pandemic. Back in May, my mom contracted the Covid-19 virus, presumably whilst working as a Nurse Practitioner. By speaking to my mom, I hope to gain a perspective on what it’s like to have the virus, what consequences testing positive has had for her mental health, and the additional mental health challenges faced by her patients during the pandemic. For context, my mom is British and works in a National Health Service medical center in sub-urban Norwich, which is in the East of England.  

I started by asking my mom what it was like to have Covid-19.

“To start with I did feel very unwell. It was like any normal illness and it was very scary, you didn’t know what was going to happen. If you have the Flu you know that within a few days you will start to feel better, but with this virus you start unwell but by day ten you could end up in hospital. You don’t know if you are going to recover or if you are going to get worse.”

One of the factors that is different about Covid-19, compared to other illnesses, is that if somebody receives a positive test, they should quarantine to prevent spreading it to others. I asked my mom what her experience of quarantine was like and how it affected her mental health.

“Being quarantined was horrible because you felt if you came out of quarantine you could give it to other people, mainly my husband or my son, and that was horrible to think you could do them a lot of harm. You had to be very careful and think about everything you did not spread it to other people. I spent all my time alone in my bedroom.”

By now we know that the Covid-19 virus can be very damaging to our physical health, but one thing that is less well understood is how it may be impacting our mental health. I asked my mom what impacts the virus may be having on her own and her patients mental health.

“I think a lot of people are struggling with lockdown (stay-at-home order). They can’t go out and see their family and friends. For instance, my dad has got cancer at the moment and he’s just been into hospital and it’s a real worry that he will get Covid whilst he’s in hospital. He’s having chemotherapy so his immune system is very low, and I can’t go around and help support them. That’s been really horrible. I think people’s mental health has suffered just because you can’t get together with friends and family and have normal healthy lives.”

I asked my mom, from her experience of having Covid-19 and quarantining, what advice would she give to others to help them.

“We have a really good support group at work, we have a WhatsApp group so we can chat and keep each other updated with funny Tik Tok’s and keep morale high. I call my family to be able to speak to them. It’s good to be able to speak to them even if I can’t see them. We have been doing zoom quizzes and zoom games, just to raise morale. My friend sent me some flowers the other day to cheer me up and I think these are the sorts of little things we can do for each other – which are really helpful.”

I would like to thank my mom for sharing about such personal and difficult topics.

I have also been lucky enough to speak to my mom’s US counterpart. Leslie McGovern is a Physicians Assistant who works in the emergency room at Portneuf Medical Centre. I asked Leslie what changes have been happening at the Portneuf Emergency Room, other than the introduction of masks and protective equipment.

“We changed the rules so that only one person could go into the emergency room with the patient. Before, there was no limit on this; you could have whatever support or family you wanted.

I asked Leslie is she noticed a change in the mindset of the patients in the Emergency Room.

“We had a lot of patients who came in extremely scared as nobody has been through a pandemic before. So, a lot of patients came in scared if they had any respiratory symptoms or if they experienced a potential exposure to the virus.”

Next, I asked Leslie if there have been additional mental health challenges for patients.

“I think in a way yes, we weren’t able to do the testing until recently. So, we would tell people that they may have it and they need to self-quarantine, but we cannot test at the moment. Therefore, we were sending people home with a bigger unknown that what they came in with and that did lead to a lot of people – if you will - freaking out about the fact they may have this deadly virus.”

I asked Leslie if we have seen a local change in mental health problems.

“We have had a lot more patients come in with anger issues, a lot of people come in via police for medical clearance because of domestic issues or substance abuse issues – so there are those indirect things (from the virus).”

Finally, Leslie offered some powerful advice for us all surrounding to the virus.

“My advice is to stay strong with this. Just because restrictions may be lifted, we are now seeing high numbers of the virus every day, wear you mask, wash your hands and maintain social distancing. The virus is still out there, and it could make a surge.”

Thank you to my guests this week. Tune in to Mind Tap next week to hear Christian explore community and mental health.