COVID and mental health
The first patients who came to my clinic at the beginning of the pandemia, on March 2020, were divided around what they felt about the new Chinese virus.
Some believed it was the announcement of a new era due to the possible social and health restrictions that would come. Others thought they would be just another illness similar to seasonal flu. However, no group of patients understood the effects that the disease would have on emotions.
Covid is also a psychosocial disease. Loaded with components of fear, potentiating anxiety and stimulating depressive behaviors, covid is a disease with an emotional impact that is still not understood.
Quarantine, circulation restrictions and sometimes contamination paranoia, dramatically change the capacity for social interaction. Even with all available computer resources, no technology was able to supply the face-to-face experiences.
Touch, skin, heat and hugs don't reproduce over the Internet (yet). Even classes through digital platforms prove to be insufficient because the teaching and learning process is above all an affective and relational phenomenon, in addition to being intellectual.
As I care for patients from different parts of the world, I have the privilege of establishing behavioral comparisons around people's different reactions to the pandemia.
In Europe, in general, patients say they are anxious about successive decrees restricting circulation, but hopeful in the face of state protection. They are patients who rarely experience saturation of the health system and, therefore, present depressive conditions related to domestic confinement, but relatively low incidence of anxious behaviors due to epidemiological uncertainties.
In Africa and Latin America, my patients express a lot of denial about the lethality of the disease, which suggests an expected emotional defense mechanism that would be protecting a greater good: life itself. The restrictions on circulation and state activity, imposed on those continents, without the proper state counterpart, provoke a different emotional conflict in those patients. Fluctuations in mood are the hallmark of a reality marked by unpredictable fluctuations in public health policies.
My patients in the United States, demonstrate a mixture of behaviors evidenced in Latin American and European patients. The historical multicultural components of the United States, associated with the recent political polarization in that country, are expressed through behaviors dissociated from reality (such as negationism) and charged with irritability. Managing the growing irritability is a constant challenge for planning emotional solutions to the dilemma imposed by the pandemia on the typical dynamics of American culture and daily life.
However, despite the behavioral differences that I observe in these three groups of patients, there is something that is common: the growing isolation of teenagers.
Teenagers, especially as a result of confinement, have been engaged in distance school activities through digital teaching platforms. Such platforms are just an extension of the image and voices of teachers or digital content. They cannot teach emotional skills because they cannot offer genuine social interaction.
We learned in this pandemia, and our teenagers are learning with great pain, that the computer media are far from supplying what only real life can offer.
A real virus, a partly virtual pandemia, lethal effects, on bodies and emotions.
Healing will be much more than producing vaccines.
Until then, or in the meantime, we learn again what it is to live with the family, within what can be called the new normal.
Dr. Márcio Moraes
e-mail: [email protected]
Psychologist and Hypnotherapist with 20 years of experience.
American Psychological Association
Federal Council of Psychology of Brazil
Portuguese Psychologists Association
European Federation of Psychologists' Associations