Public health emergencies, like the COVID-19 pandemic, bring about measures limiting personal freedoms, financial losses, and conflicting messages from authorities that can impact the health, safety, and well-being of individuals and communities. These major stressors increase emotional distress and lead to depression and anxiety disorders.
The main groups at higher risk are those who contract the disease, those at high risk for it, those with pre-existing health problems, and healthcare providers.
An article in the New England Journal of Medicines says healthcare providers are at the forefront of detecting emotional distress but monitoring is hampered by the confinement measures in place. While some patients reach suicidal ideations and need to be appropriately referred, the distress of others can be normalised by explaining the usual reactions people may have in these situations. Providers can suggest stress management and coping techniques, social and mental health services, and limitation of media exposure. Of note, the stress children may suffer should not be underestimated.
Healthcare providers should self-care and most importantly have mental health support at the organisational level. As part of the response to the pandemic, healthcare systems have to address emotional distress in their workers through monitoring and offering psychosocial support, the authors say.