Health has become the primary focus of 2020, although it would seem one aspect of our health has been relatively overlooked. The severe and sudden social changes that took place earlier this year came as something of a shock to many people, particularly the elderly and vulnerable who rely on routine and socialisation. Social media was flooded with heart-wrenching images and videos of families waving at bewildered, elderly relatives stood in their doorways unsure why they weren’t able to come in.
Although the changes were rapid and society adapted in accordance with suggested guidelines, the stress and potential trauma of such dramatic change should not go underestimated.
Some of the key indicators of mental health issues are a sense of paranoia, overly worrying, and the fear of other people or agoraphobia. The restrictions imposed by lockdowns have left people isolated and increasingly concerned about an invisible enemy that emanates from physical contact or proximity to other people.
We’ve stopped socialising, shaking hands, hugging and kissing each other. For many, especially those that live alone, the world has shrunk, as we communicate through digital platforms where we would once be face to face.
In response, a sharp increase in the use of alcohol has been recorded globally as the general public self-medicate. In April, supermarkets recorded a 31.4% increase in alcohol sales in the UK, while in the same month online sales of alcohol in the US was up by a shocking 477%
Spain increased wine consumption by 62.6%, spirits by 79.3% and a sensible increase of 23.1% in bar snacks, effectively reproducing the bar at home.
The lack of people on the street and police presence combined with more unemployed and desperate people has seen an increase in crime. In Zaragoza, Spain, a city with a generally low crime rate, the last few months have seen machete fights, gang crime and a rise in civil disobedience.
Meanwhile, the school system strains to accommodate the restrictions of distancing. With some schools opting for intermittent days at school and studying remotely, while others have split their classes in two, live streaming classes to a second room where students attend alongside their classmates virtually. Needless to say, there is a confusion and disillusionment among the youth, as the responsibility of studying unsupervised is part of a skill set further developed towards University age. Wearing masks for 5 hours a day and being unable to socialise properly during free time, including the lack of contact sports and absence of festivals and social events has left many feeling unmotivated and depressed. At the moment there are no mental health services provided for teenagers in Spain in response to this situation.
In the US a survey conducted by Harris Poll, earlier in May revealed that 7 out of 10 teenagers were struggling with their mental health with 45% feeling excess stress and 43% saying they are struggling with depression.
What can be done?
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers the following advice:
Connect with others - Share your concerns and how you are feeling with a friend or family member. Maintain healthy relationships, and build a strong support system.
Avoid too much exposure to news - Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories. It can be upsetting to hear about the crisis and see images repeatedly. Try to do enjoyable activities and return to normal life as much as possible and check for updates between breaks.
Take care of yourself and your community - Taking care of your friends and your family can be a stress reliever, but it should be balanced with care for yourself. Helping others cope with their stress, such as by providing social support, can also make your community stronger. During times of increased social distancing, people can still maintain social connections and care for their mental health. Phone calls or video chats can help you and your loved ones feel socially connected, less lonely, or isolated.
If you are suffering from mental health issues, stay connected with friends and family, or contact the CDC for advice. Even if you are not suffering from the symptoms of stress, you may know somebody who is, take the time to speak with your friends, family, colleagues and neighbours. There has never been a greater demand for community action. Stay connected, stay healthy.