Quarantine. It’s a simple word, and one that we often hear nowadays. Yet it is also a word that many of us seem to have a hard time dealing with. I’m sure that I’m not alone in thinking that the different ‘quarantines’ and social distancing schemes we have all over the world are harrowing experiences, things that could be pushing us to our very limits without us even knowing. Perhaps at one point in your life, you’ve imagined how good it would be if you could get a month, or even a day, where you weren’t required to do anything, where you could just kick back and relax. But we should have been careful with what we wished for, because this months-long retreat is turning out to be a bit more trouble than it’s worth.
Of course, our biggest concern centers around things like food and money, plaguing us with questions like, “How will we eat properly now?” or “How would I even buy food without my salary?!” or even “Where can I get toilet paper now that these panic-buyers already bought out all the stock?” On a more serious note, some might even ask, “What will I do now that I’ve lost my job?” or “Will the world even be the same once this whole thing’s over?” Yet voicing out these concerns to your family, or even to close friends that you’ve kept in contact with online or through other means, brings out arguments like, “You shouldn’t worry about that right now,” or maybe even, “Just distract yourself while waiting for this whole thing to blow over.” But oftentimes, this advice doesn’t help during such trying times. And this is most likely caused by the fact that as we worry about more obvious concerns like food and physical health, we often forget to worry about the other, not-as-obvious but equally-as-important things: like mental health.
So after much cajoling, and perhaps even too much exposition on my part, we finally get to the very important question: Why does mental health matter during the quarantine?
First of all, let’s talk about how important caring about mental health is during quarantine. The quarantine has been proven to have significant impacts on our mental well being. In a recent study published in the medical journal “The Lancet”, scientists reviewed 24 different papers consolidated from 3 different databases, all concerning the different effects quarantine had on people during outbreaks such as the 2003 SARS outbreak and the 2014 Ebola outbreak. And from these studies, several effects on mental health were found, some being:
During the SARS outbreak, hospital staff quarantined for around 9 days suffered from acute stress disorder after the quarantine period ended. Other effects reported by the quarantined staff were exhaustion, detachment from others, anxiety when dealing with febrile patients, irritability, insomnia, poor concentration and indecisiveness, deteriorating work performance, and reluctance to work or consideration of resignation.
In another study, parents and children that were quarantined were found to have four times higher mean post-traumatic stress scores in children and having 28% (27 of 98) of the parents report symptoms that warranted a diagnosis of trauma-related mental health disorders, compared to children who were not quarantined and 6% (17 of 299) of parents who were not quarantined respectively.
Another study found that being quarantined was a predictor of post-traumatic stress symptoms in hospital employees even 3 years into the future.
Other studies supported this, with one finding that hospital staff showed symptoms of depression 3 years after quarantine. Additionally 9% (48 of 549) of the whole sample reported high depressive symptoms. In the group with high depressive symptoms, nearly 60% (29 of 48) had been quarantined but only 15% (63 of 424) of the group with low depressive symptoms had been quarantined.
All these studies seem to show that being quarantined seems to bring about a slew of mental problems (and in hospital staff especially). And since COVID-19, unlike previous outbreaks, is affecting the entire world for a much longer period, we can see that the various quarantines put in place have started affecting not only front-liners, but the world-at-large, both young and old. And since many psychological problems caused by COVID-19 are caused by stress, perhaps it helps to see what the effects of stress are at various stages of life.
In a study published in the Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, the proponents discussed the different effects that stress has on people, in their different points of life. Such effects include:
In children and adolescents, effects of stress include anxiety and mood disorders, aggressive dyscontrol problems, hypo-immune dysfunction, medical morbidity, structural changes in the CNS, and early death. These effects are more prominent when exposed to intense and chronic stressors during developmental years, all of which cause long-lasting neurobiological effects.
In adults, anxiety disorders are often caused by stressful life events, a disorder that is more common in occurrence compared to the more talked-about depression. Furthermore, people with anxiety are likely to develop major depression after stressful life events.
Thus, we can see how important taking care of our mental health is during these times. This is especially true since we are stuck inside all day, with no one to talk to other than ourselves for the most part (well, there is family, but honestly, would you be able to talk to them all the time?). So, perhaps it’s a good idea to practice ways to keep your stress levels down (and perhaps your sanity up) during the quarantine.
In an article by Very Well Mind, the authors discussed ways to cope mentally during quarantine. These include:
Establish routines: It is important that routines are established to set a feeling of normalcy despite being cooped up inside all day. This is so that you will not have a feeling of having no direction during quarantine.
Be as active as possible: Even a small bit of physical inactivity is dangerous to your health, and people are especially prone to this during a time when we are confined to our homes. Doing moderate, indoor exercise is highly recommended.
Combat frustration and boredom: Some of the distress caused by quarantine stems from boredom and frustration. Thus, it is best that during it you find something you can do to stave it off. Perhaps a project you’ve been putting off due to lack of time, or perhaps just simple hobbies like playing video games or the like.
Communicate: The feeling of isolation is also a major contributing factor to distress, and thus it is best to minimize it by communicating as much as possible. Doing this through digital means may not be the most fulfilling, but it’s the best compromise at hand.
Stay informed, but not overwhelmed: People tend to experience anxiety when it comes to subjects they’re unaware of. It is best to stay informed about the virus and its effects as much as possible. However, be wary of misinformation spread as that may have a negative effect rather than a positive one.
Remember why you’re doing this: It might also be helpful to think about why quarantines are imposed in the first place. For more information on flattening the curve, check out this detailed breakdown.
Never forget that staying healthy– both physically and mentally– is one of the biggest things we can do right now. Let’s beat this virus in more ways than one.
Cherry, Kendra. “How Does Quarantine Affect Your Mental Health?” Verywell Mind, 17 Mar. 2020, https://www.verywellmind.com/protect-your-mental-health-during-quarantine-4799766.
KBrooksPhDa, Samantha. “The Psychological Impact of Quarantine and How to Reduce It: Rapid Review of the Evidence.” The Lancet, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0140673620304608. Accessed 5 Mar. 2020.
Schneiderman, Neil. “STRESS AND HEALTH: Psychological, Behavioral, and Biological Determinants.” PubMed Central (PMC), 1 Jan. 2005, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2568977/.