Clinical

Anxiety Disorders During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Ines Marquina
Published on May 13, 2021. Updated on May 13, 2021.

Spending so much time alone or with the same couple of people during the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a proliferation in anxiety disorders. Today on the Osmosis blog, medical student Inés Marquina explores how the mental health reverberations of the pandemic could be something we feel for a long time to come. 

The world's population in recent years has witnessed far-reaching natural and anthropological disasters. However, over the past year, we have been facing a completely unprecedented circumstance (at least in most of our lifetimes). 

The confinement in which we are living due to COVID-19 pandemic is an essential preventive measure to stop the spread of the virus, but it's important to remember that it comes with its own risks, like the huge impact it is having on our collective wellbeing. Currently, people are anxiously wondering about the repercussions  COVID-19 will have on things like our economy, politics, labor, and society—and this multifactorial uncertainty is wreaking havoc on our mental health.

Governments around the world have attempted to manage the pandemic using different preventative and protective strategies. When implementing these preventive measures, the secondary effects of confinement and isolation were a secondary consideration—the impacts of which may be felt long after the pandemic is under control.

Osmosis text about prevention measures

The pandemic and mental health

The established measures have unleashed a great challenge for human beings: the impossibility of interacting in person. We're social by nature! 

Although the prevention measures have indeed had a great impact on improving the pandemic situation, they have also added advertisies to people's lives—including those related to mental illness.

Unfortunately, in México, talking about your own experience with mental illnesses and psychiatric disorders is taboo. Many of the patients do not consult a suitable specialist doctor, and they often ignore the signs of mental distress, such as anxiety.

With many people spending time alone in confinement,  feelings of anxiety and uncertainty have become normalized, which is maybe to be expected; it's so pervasive that it's now a generalized feeling within the population. However, it is very important to know how to identify when those feelings of anxiety and uncertainty are interrupting daily activities and preventing you from leading a healthy life.

An uphill battle

This is where the difficulty lies in the area of psychiatry. How do we know the limit between "healthy" anxiety (which any person in good health can feel under a stressful situation) and an anxiety disorder brought on (at least in part) by the pandemic?

Currently, there isn't much research on psychiatric illnesses that can occur or be triggered secondary to the presence of COVID-19. Some psychiatric symptoms have been related to the presence of this virus, with common ones including anxiety, insomnia, difficulty concentrating, and depression.

The pathogenesis in the development of psychiatric symptoms related to the presence of this disease include both environmental and psychosocial factors. Taking into account that environmental factors affect the development of these symptoms, it's clear that the environment we're in today makes us a little more likely to have an anxiety disorder. There is a lot of uncertainty, misinformation, intense coexistence among relatives, inconsistency in your schedule (or the opposite problem—too little change), etc.

Psychosocial factors related to the presence of psychiatric symptoms are frequent exposure to people who are infected with the virus, fear of infecting other people or relatives, and lack of access to diagnostic tests.

For this type of disease, we have so much to grapple with: physical distancing distancing; confinement or quarantine; loneliness; inconsistent or unreliable messaging about the methods of prevention and treatment of COVID-19; insecurity; financial problems; a lack of medical supplies in hospitals, supermarkets, or pharmacies; and last but not least, the existence and promotion of false or erroneous data by the media.

Osmosis ilustration of a lonely man at home

The long run

The way we are living in the COVID pandemic—apart from others and primarily online—has been difficult to adapt to, and many people are experiencing anxiety symptoms and disorders as a result. Healthcare workers are also going through a very hard situation; hospitals and clinics must be aware of the current psychosocial situation their doctors, nurses, and healthcare practitioners in general are experiencing.

On the other hand, it is highly probable that during the pandemic, patients (mainly children and adolescents) who previously had a psychiatric disorder, after confinement, will present a particular acuity in their symptoms.

Anxiety disorders, among other psychiatric disorders, will continue even when the pandemic is under control. This is why evaluating all patients with these types of symptoms during the pandemic is important, as is providing adequate follow-up and treatment to prevent these disorders from triggering other diseases. The measures we should choose to improve these symptoms are to anticipate the changes that may arise in the pandemic, adapt, and make a contingency plan.

About Inés

Inés Marquina is a 4th-year medical student at Anáhuac University Mexico. Inés comes from a city called Querétaro. She wants to do her pediatrics residency in the US. During her free time she likes visiting art museums (especially impressionism), playing the violin or making paper crafts.

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