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The Effects of COVID-19 on Mental Illness

Marie writes about health, well-being, writing and food. Marketing writer with 30 years experience in PR and advertising.

We have been in isolation for our own good. Many people with existing mental illness may not be coping so well.

We have been in isolation for our own good. Many people with existing mental illness may not be coping so well.

COVID-19 Is Affecting Everyone

In these unprecedented times, it is more important than ever to look after your health, both physical and mental. Every country in the world has been impacted by the Coronavirus Pandemic, and every government has had to put in place strict measures to keep citizens safe. To date, over 15 million people have been infected with the virus and over 600,000 deaths worldwide. Some countries are experiencing a second wave of the disease. The full impact of isolation, uncertainty and ongoing social distancing on the world's population is yet to be known.

This virus began changing our lives in March 2020, when stay-at-home orders and social distancing were introduced. Many people began working from home and only went out to buy essentials. For some people, such as those who have social phobia, OCPD or autism, the fact they do not have to be around others is probably a bonus. It may be easier to cope with the social distancing and stay-at-home orders for those with certain mental illnesses.

However, this is not the case for everyone. Mental illness is on the rise, as is domestic violence, due to the fact we have all had to self-isolate and have had other disruptions to our lives. The impact the virus is having on people today may be nothing compared to the after-effects in years to come.

UC Davis: Mental Health and Wellness During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Negative Psychological Impact of COVID-19

At the beginning of the pandemic, many of us were overcome with fear and anxiety. As the spread became somewhat contained, anxiety levels returned to some form of normality. However, this is not the case for everyone, and it is these people—those who suffer with long-term effects of this pandemic—who are most vulnerable and may require treatment.

I spoke with Gary Trosclair, DMA, LCSW of Choosing Therapy, New York and asked these questions:

Has there been an increase with OCPD sufferers seeking help due to COVID?

I have not noticed a significant increase of people with OCPD seeking therapy. This is not to say they don't want it or need it, but rather that they may not feel as comfortable with tele-health platforms. Their need for control, and discomfort with vulnerability, has even led some who were in therapy to discontinue as long as they couldn't meet live with their therapist. People with OCPD feel a need to plan, which is pretty impossible now, imagining that that will make them happier. While it has some practical advantages, the psychological price, the anxiety and missing out on the present moment, are not worth it.

People with OCPD do not like to appear weak, and the need for therapy may appear as a weakness to them. The pandemic may intensify this. My observation is that it actually takes a lot of strength and courage to acknowledge you could use help. My hope is that those who are struggling with control in a time of very little control will consider that this may be an opportunity to deal with issues that have always been in the background for them, like the underlying anxiety or shame that leads to the need for control and perfection, and the depression that can come with not being able to control or be perfect. Or, at least, the distress their personality style causes to those around them.

Are the restrictions around COVID impacting on OCPD sufferers’ lives?

A larger issue determining how well people are dealing with the pandemic is socioeconomic. Those who have resources can move to a summer home where they are, as you suggest, quite comfortable working on their own. In fact, it has temporarily solved problems for some with OCPD. Those who have fewer resources, and may have to stay in a small apartment, are not doing so well.

Have the uncertainties around COVID and catching the disease sent people with OCPD into meltdown and have OCPD relationships been affected due to COVID?

Again, as you suggest, the toll on couples has been significant. Living constantly with someone who is controlling can be very hard on the compulsive's partner. And the same is true in reverse: someone who is compulsive may have a really hard time watching their partner day after day make a mess or waste their time. It may be helpful to the compulsive partner to appreciate that their partner is more flexible and easier to get along with then they are. They probably offer a great deal of life and emotion to the relationship that benefits them on some level that they don't always acknowledge. And it may be helpful to the non-compulsive partner to remember how much the compulsive partner contributes to the relationship in practical terms. And that underneath the control and rigidity, they are both very anxious and really eager to do the "right" thing, no matter how they come across.

The non-compulsive partner may also need to remember that contrary to appearances, they may be quite valued. it will be important for them to communicate their needs since compulsives often don't pick up what people around them need. They should set boundaries for the expectations of the compulsive, and make sure that they are exercising good self-care."

Mental Illness Is Increasing

In Australia, 1 in 5 people suffer a form of mental illness, and these numbers are similar, if not worse, in many other countries. In the USA, 40 million adults suffer from anxiety, and over 140 million have sought treatment for mental disorders.

Your status in society does not exclude you from developing a mental illness; these diseases do not discriminate. Now, in the midst of this Pandemic, mental illness is on the rise. With the difficulty of keeping your job or having already lost it, many businesses closing and people subjected to financial hardship due to the Pandemic, it is not a surprise this is happening.

For some individuals who already had a pre-existing mental illness prior to the pandemic, the isolation and disruption to their routine may not be of concern. People who have OCPD (obsessive compulsive personality disorder), social phobia or autism, may be fine with the fact they do not have to socialise because for them it is a chore to interact with others anyway. Many, especially those with OCPD, need to be able to control every aspect of their lives and having to spend more time at home actually suits them. When you don't have to go out there is no need to control the outside world. This is a big plus for anyone with this type of mental illness.

With control being a big issue for anyone suffering a mental illness, is the fact they cannot control this virus an even bigger issue? No one knows when and if they will contract the virus and what are the chances of surviving if they do get it? This is a huge uncertainty that would weigh on anyone's mind, even for those who don't suffer a mental illness. This is fuelling the rise in anxiety and fear that leads a person to suffer in either the short term or long term. The full effects of this Pandemic will not be realised for some time.

My observation is that it actually takes a lot of strength and courage to acknowledge you could use help.

— Gary Trosclair, DMA, LCSW

Where to Find Help

A simple Google search will give you many options of where to seek help if you are suffering. However, the first step is to see your GP and discuss your situation. GPs are trained professionals and will give you a plan of action that may include therapy, drugs or exercise program, or a combination of all three. There are many reputable online therapists available now if you feel more comfortable discussing your needs this way.

When it comes to the therapy you require, be specific about your needs. Having a proper diagnosis and explaining all your symptoms clearly will help a therapist to work with you and devise a plan to manage your illness. Don't try and tackle a mental illness on your own, there is help out there. Below are a few links that may help, but it may help asking your GP to recommend therapists near you.

Johns Hopkins: How to Cope in the Crisis (of the COVID-19 Pandemic)

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2020 Maria Giunta