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The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak has brought the whole world to a halt as almost all the countries are struggling to maintain their daily routine by quarantining themselves. Experts warn this prolonged isolation may trigger or worsen mental health problems.
Now that most countries are under lockdown to fight the pandemic, there is one section of people who are struggling with the lack of freedom, social activities, fresh air and exercise, making them bored and lonely. This can have an impact on people's mental well-being, which should not be overlooked.
What Is Quarantine?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines quarantine as the separation and restriction of the movement of people who were exposed to a contagious disease to see if they become sick.
How Quarantine Affects Mental Health?
There is a lot of uncertainty and stress lingering during the pandemic. Thinking about how to spend your time during your quarantine days can take a serious toll on your mental health. Quarantine has an impact on three important elements of mental health - emotional well-being, psychological well-being and social well-being .
The fact that quarantine has left many people being confined to their homes has led to an increase in several health risks. These include depressive symptoms, impaired cognitive function, poor sleep, poor heart health and low immunity.
Even though quarantine is temporary, brief periods of loneliness and isolation can have harmful consequences on your mental well-being.
A study published in the journal The Lancet showed that people who were in quarantine reported psychological symptoms, which includes depression, stress, low mood, insomnia, irritability, emotional disturbance, anger, post-traumatic stress symptoms and emotional exhaustion .
The psychological symptoms were triggered due to longer quarantine duration, inadequate information, inadequate supplies, boredom, frustration, infection fears, stigma and financial loss.
Another study examined the psychological impact of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak that occurred in 2003. About 10 per cent of the people experienced post-traumatic stress symptoms (PTS) .
Long-term effects of quarantine were also seen three years after the SARS outbreak .
The psychological symptoms can be problematic only for people with pre-existing mental health problems.
Mental Health Effects Of Quarantine In Children
A study published in the journal The Lancet showed that children who were quarantined or isolated during pandemic diseases were more likely to develop grief, acute stress disorder and adjustment disorder. 30 per cent of the children who were quarantined or isolated developed post-traumatic stress disorder .
These psychological effects were seen in children who were quarantined due to close contact with infected COVID-19 individuals. Children who were quarantined at home with their parents or relatives had a lesser effect as compared to children who are separated from their caregivers and quarantined in local hospitals.
What Governments Can Do To Mitigate The Effects Of Quarantine?
Some governments have come forward to address mental health concerns. Governments should be able to communicate quarantine measures effectively to the public while supplying essential supplies.
The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has listed down some ways to handle mental health problems.
Ways to handle social isolation
- Maintain a regular schedule
- Keep yourself active throughout the day
- Distract yourself from negative emotions by listening to music, reading, painting, gardening or watching an entertainment show.
- Eat a well-balanced diet
- Drink plenty of water
- Elderly people may feel lost and confused. Help them out by listening to them.
- Keep your children busy so that they don't feel bored and lonely.
Ways to handle emotional problems
If you experience anxiety, practice deep-breathing for a few minutes.
- Try and distance yourself from anxious thoughts by thinking something calm to slow down your mind.
- If you feel angry and irritated, calm down your mind by counting backwards from 10 to 1.
- Communicate with friends and family if you are feeling sad or lonely.
- If you are feeling afraid, deal with it by asking yourself: What is under my control? Am I unnecessarily worrying about the worst thing that can happen? When I have been stressed in the past, how have I managed? What are the things I can do to help myself and be positive?
- If the above problems persist, consult a mental health professional immediately.
What Can You Do To Mitigate The Effects Of Quarantine?
Quarantine is better tolerated when people get accurate information about the nature of the disease and when people understand the role of quarantine to fight a pandemic.
Here are some ways to do so as suggested by The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare:
- Believe in reliable sources as they make you less fearful.
- Avoid watching sensational news or social media posts that carry wrong or fake information.
- Do not keep discussing all the time about who got sick and how.
- Practice hand and respiratory hygiene.
- Avoid close contact with others.
- Avoid tobacco, alcohol and other drugs as it can worsen your mental health.
- Do not shun or judge people with COVID-19 infection.
- Do not panic if you happen to get infected with coronavirus. Remember most people get recovered.
- Recognise mental health problems in others by seeing the changes in sleep patterns, difficulty in concentrating, worsening of health problems and increased use of alcohol, drugs or tobacco.
Being quarantined at home with family members provides an opportunity for families to come together and strengthen their bonds. For children, it can be a great time as they can spend ample quality time with their parents.
On the other hand, adolescents may be less enthusiastic and excited and they may feel bored. So, the best way to cope with mental health problems is by engaging in activities, thinking positive and staying connected with others.