Psychological Effects of Coronavirus

Contagious epidemics and the spread of organisms between countries and continents have been facilitated by global changes in the world’s climate and improved travel opportunities. COVID-19, the infection caused by the novel coronavirus detected in December 2019, is affecting many countries and raising widespread panic worries and concerns among individuals exposed to the (real or perceived) threat of the virus. Importantly, the physiological symptoms caused by this virus occur in all infections, including influenza and other illnesses. Even more deadly diseases than this virus are affecting people around the world right now. However, the fact that we do not know this virus and are constantly exposed to negative news on this subject can cause panic, stress and hysteria.

Pandemics are not just a medical phenomenon; They affect individuals and society at many levels and cause disruptions. Labeling individuals and xenophobia are two aspects of the societal impact of pandemic contagious outbreaks. Panic and stress have also been associated with epidemics. As concerns grew with the perceived threat, people began collecting (and hoarding) masks and other medical supplies. This is often followed by anxiety-related behaviors, sleep disturbances, and overall poorer health. People with mental disorders may be particularly vulnerable to the effects of widespread panic and threat.

Chronic infectious diseases, including communicable diseases such as tuberculosis and HIV, cause higher levels of mental disorders compared to the general population. Studies note the generally increased rates of depression after infections. (eg herpes and anthrax). Although the effects of coronavirus on mental health have not been systematically studied, it is expected that COVID-19 will spread in waves, especially based on current public reactions.

Labeling

Leads to stigmatization of individuals, authority figures and health professionals affected by epidemics; unfortunately, this trend has also been seen in many countries in the past. With COVID-19, Asian men and women, especially of Chinese descent, are victims of social stigma and xenophobia online and in politics. Labeling often develops with limited information, hasty and one-dimensional assessments. It is imperative that all healthcare professionals, especially psychologists, act as the voice of reason and assist in the dissemination of accurate, evidence-based information.

medical distrust

“Medical distrust” refers to distrust of medical treatment and advances. This results in less use of health resources and worse management of health conditions (with possible misuse in times of crisis). In addition, medical distrust has been used to explain some racial and ethnic health care differences. It has been associated with a variety of diseases and conditions, including cancer, autism, and HIV. Distrust of medical establishments can strengthen labeling and perceived discrimination and lead to less adherence to health recommendations.

Conspiracy Theories

During the contagious epidemic, medical mistrust is associated with conspiracy theories. In one US study, more than half of those surveyed endorsed belief in at least one health-related conspiracy theory. For example, excessive conspiracy theories cause a decrease in “vaccine” tendencies.

Anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorders

Infectious diseases are predicted to cause serious anxiety and panic. We may have thoughts that tire us all the time, such as worrying about getting an infection or worrying about the illness of loved ones. The lack of a definitive cure for coronavirus easily exacerbates anxiety. In most cases, however, these anxiety symptoms will not meet the diagnostic criteria for a mental illness.

Contamination obsessions—concern that the person is dirty and needs washing, cleaning, or sterilization—are very common in OCD patients. Perceptual experiences (eg, skin contamination) understandably reinforce attachments. Sensory experiences (but not complete tactile hallucinations) have been found in 75% of OCD patients. More intense sensory experiences (pseudo hallucinations) are related to poor control over compulsions and poorer insight. It is associated with a tendency to perceive threat more than normal in individuals with OCD.

At the same time, the compulsions to clean and wash, which are the main features of OCD, can easily be exacerbated by the threat of contagious pandemics. Complications of over-cleaning include dry, cracked skin, and overuse of toxic cleaning materials can lead to injury. Fear of acquiring a new, sensational illness can also worsen negative behavior.

Psychotic disorders: an extreme medical distrust?

The most prominent (and perhaps the most interesting) examples of medical distrust conspiracy theories concern patients with psychotic disorders. Typically, repeated media exposure to an alarming truth (in this case, the spread of the coronavirus), distrust of organizations and government, and misunderstanding of physical symptoms can cause delusions.

Very difficult situations such as lack of information about epidemics, increase in zoonotic infections and climate changes can confuse even healthy people.

The development of delusions has not been investigated in the context of the pandemic. Possibly, new cases may develop as more individuals focus on possible infections that are too distant due to easy access to unconfirmed information on the Internet.

To sum up, the current COVID-19 pandemic is causing fear at the societal level. At the individual level, it may exacerbate anxiety and psychosis-like symptoms differently and lead to non-specific mental problems (eg, mood problems, sleep problems, phobia-like behaviors, panic-like symptoms). Early diagnosis will cause this process to be overcome with less damage. In this process, it will be very important to monitor yourself and control the level of your fear and anxiety.

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