September 27th, 2019
COVID-19 causes new mental health considerations
SUN. | 02-28-21 | OPINION
Since the beginning of the pandemic, people across the world have been experiencing loneliness like never before. Initially, going on lockdown for two weeks sounded like an easy solution, but for some, two weeks alone was a tall ask. This change immediately brought attention to underlying health issues.
Due to the rise of mental health issues, researchers have begun to compare the effects of quarantine to those of solitary confinement. According to Medical News Today, “A 2016 report from the United Nations (UN) found that most countries that use solitary confinement do so as a form of punishment.” Upon examination, this form of punishment is meant to elicit feelings of loneliness which presents a strong correlation to “suicide attempts and suicidal ideation.” In fact, some research has found that solitary confinement does more harm than good. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health “The typical cell is 60 to 80 square feet.” In comparison, the Doorway Magazine found that “the average standard size bedroom in the United States is 11 feet by 12 feet (132 square feet).” Not only can confinement cause the person’s mental health to deteriorate, but it
Graphic by Murphy Fisher
also is not cost effective. In the U.S. is it usually used either for health reasons, as punishment for misbehaviour or to keep other inmates safe. No matter the initial intention, however, the results tend to be the same. In relating to quarantine, solitary confinement as a means of torture is limited to under 15 days in the United Kingdom, yet quarantine as a simple means of precaution is required to be 14 days by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Lockdowns in Melbourne, however Australia lasted about four months. We are not at all arguing that this time span should be lessened for the sake of mental health, but instead are trying to highlight the effects of these similar isolation techniques in destructing mental health and prompting suicidal thoughts.
With suicide rates already rising by approximately 1% each year according to the CDC, the pandemic undoubtedly will mark an increase in suicide deaths and attempts since March 2020. With the second highest demographic of suicidal individuals being 15-24 years old in 2018, it further stresses the increase in mental health problems in young adults. Specifically, the pandemic ushers in a host of issues that particularly destruct the mental health of teenagers: loss of community, loss of freedom and loss of connection. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, “the economic problems and the slowdown in academic activities are related with anxious symptoms,” which are each events triggered by the onset of the pandemic. These loss of feelings of freedom and community are caused by the cancelling of events like sports or other face-to-face activities.
However, in some cases, we feel that the effects of the pandemic will reach far beyond just mental health. Although much effort has been made to fill this consequence through the utilization of technology like Zoom, researchers have begun to question the effectiveness of these tools in meeting both young adult’s social needs and children’s developmental needs. Young children in particular are susceptible to long term effects of prolonged isolation.
In the U.S., leaving young children unattended for long periods of time is considered neglect, yet in other countries there have been incidents of orphans being left alone and the consequences the children suffered were major. According to an article written by NPR reporter Jon Hamilton, “Researchers began studying the children in Romanian orphanages... and it soon became clear that many of them had stunted growth and a range of mental and emotional problems.” For example, some of the children showed coping mechanisms generally associated with children who have Autism such as rocking themselves. Years later, when brain scans were done on the orphans, it was found that “many of the orphans had disturbingly low levels of brain activity.” While this early neglect is far from what students are going through today, the negative effects, potentially long-term, must be considered.
Although we fully support and realize the necessity with which quarantine must be enforced to slow the spread of COVID-19, these isolationary measures do not come without consequences to mental health. We feel that these ramifications must be understood and addressed by the community, especially in a time where social media allows for greater global commonality of struggles. However, we feel that the best answer to these emotional and social struggles incited by the virus will come with the end of the pandemic that will only be reached through widespread vaccinations and other precautionary measures.