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Section I: The Mental Landscape

Anxiety of IllnessLandscape

As our community experiences an increase in new confirmed (and suspected) cases of COVID-19, it is only natural to be concerned about our health and safety. We know that in previous times of infectious disease, such as the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) of 2003 and the middle eastern respiratory syndrome (MERS) of 2015, anxiety, despair, anger, and chronic fatigue all rose in the communities they affected. While some of us in our community are fortunate enough to be able to practice self-quarantine and social distancing, others continue to serve society in busy marketplaces and healthcare settings. As we inevitably make contact with other people, it is normal to experience worry about the possibility of contracting COVID-19 or transmitting it to others. There are very reasonable concerns about COVID-19 that make heightened attention to and efforts at social distancing and personal hygiene necessary right now. However, it is also important that we remain aware of the difference between being reasonably concerned about our health and being irrationally fearful of the unknown. We each have the power to make choices that increase our chances of keeping ourselves and our loved ones healthy. Using appropriate hygiene (e.g., washing hands for 20 seconds or more), refraining from being in close physical proximity with others, and taking steps to protect loved ones (e.g., disinfecting common areas) can make us feel more confident that we are taking the proper steps to ensure our sense of safety.

 

Financial Stress

Many in the Athens community rely on UGA students and faculty as sources of economic vitality, and social distancing has already impacted the health of the hospitality, entertainment, and other service industries we know and love. Students who were working at UGA may have lost important sources of income, and some have found themselves relying on families who have themselves been financially affected during this time. Being unemployed can cause emotional distress in a number of ways, including depriving individuals of social contact, status, activity, and a sense of purpose. Many individuals in our community are concerned about job insecurity amidst growing layoffs and lowered commerce. These concerns are understandable because job insecurity is related to anxiety, depression, and decreases in well-being. There are numerous stressors during this period, including financial stress and those stressors involving unplanned responsibility for the care, support, and protection of family members. Lowering financial stress through utilizing available support from governmental and family resources (see Resources) will allow us to productively accomplish our goals during these uncertain times. 

 

The Psychological Effects of QuarantineIsolation

New county, state, and national policies around sheltering in place, self-quarantine, and social distancing practices are very much at odds with the social lives of many Americans. These policies can feel restrictive in ways that can hurt our spirit, especially as spring and summer are typically periods of increasing activity. In previous times of infectious disease outbreak, quarantining produced higher levels of exhaustion, isolation, irritability, insomnia/sleep problems, stress, anxiety, and anger. These negative emotions and psychological symptoms have historically been the highest among individuals who thought they had been in contact with confirmed infectious cases, but individuals with no suspected contact also showed elevated depression. Quarantining may also affect our mental and physical health by leading to social isolation and loneliness, and by stopping our routines that have been important to our health and well-being, like going to the gym or church, walking a dog, participating in extracurricular activities, and being with our friends. Therefore, it is important that we work hard and think creatively to develop new ways of meeting our basic human needs for social support, activity, purpose, and exercise under these new conditions to maintain our mental health.

Many of us are practicing quarantine with roommates, partners, friends, and family members. It can be a challenge to be in close proximity with others for prolonged periods while learning to cope with COVID-19-related stressors. Disagreements about effective social distancing, hygiene, sharing limited resources (e.g., toilet papers; tablets; televisions) and our general preparedness (e.g., food, toiletries) can lead to conflict. In these circumstances, you may find yourself feeling frustrated with others’ behavior. During this time, communication that reflects our opinions and supports overall harmony can be most helpful.

Those in relationships involving a history of domestic violence or abuse are particularly vulnerable and should take extra care in choosing safe environments, to the extent possible. Many people experiencing COVID-19-related stressors may feel that they are losing control over their lives. Under circumstances of heightened stress, individuals with aggressive tendencies may be more likely to exert control over people around them. If you or someone you know is in an unsafe living environment, consider reaching out to mental health professionals for guidance (see Section III: Resources).

 

A note to those with pre-existing conditions:

We encourage those in the community with pre-existing mental health conditions (that is, a psychiatric history of mental illness) to take extra care with their health and well-being during this time. Such individuals tend to experience more distress during disasters, and may benefit from greater support from family, friends, and mental health professionals. More information is provided in Section III: Resources.

 

MENTAL HEALTH CHECKLIST

It is normal to experience strong and mixed emotions in response to a distressing event. Because emotions can sometimes be hidden and reactions to the COVID-19 pandemic may differ greatly from person to person, it can be difficult to reflect on how you are doing emotionally. Have you taken a moment to consider your emotions during the COVID-19 pandemic? If you are experiencing emotions that are making you uncomfortable, it may be important to explore them in more detail.  To get a better idea about how you’re responding to the pandemic, complete the ratings below by putting a check mark to indicate the level of intensity for each emotion:

 

Not at all

Mildly

Moderately

Extremely

Anger

 

 

 

 

Fear

 

 

 

 

Sadness

 

 

 

 

Surprise

 

 

 

 

 

If you indicated that you are experiencing moderate to extreme levels of intensity for any of the negative emotions listed above, write down how you have been coping to reduce the discomfort caused by them:

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