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How COVID-19 and Mental Illness Affect Each Other

Many people have been blaming COVID-19 for depression and other mental health problems. They have said that quarantining and uncertainty have raised the level of anxiety in the general population, and quarantining has caused depression. These increased levels may be — probably are — accurately reported, but I don’t think they necessarily indicate an increase in the incidence of mental illness in our society.

The depression and anxiety people are feeling are, I believe, natural and expected reactions to the pandemic conditions that prevail. I’m not trying to minimize these experiences, but most people have never experienced clinical depression or anxiety and so don’t understand the nature of the actual illnesses. What depression and anxiety the pandemic has caused is likely to clear up when (if) the pandemic does. This is situational depression and anxiety.

This is not to say that people experiencing pandemic-related depression and anxiety don’t need help. Of course they do. “Talk therapy” may do them a lot of good, and there has been an upswing in the number of online and virtual counseling services available. Whether these people need antidepressants and anti-anxiety meds is a question I’m not able to answer. My best guess is they don’t, at least not long-term courses of drug treatment, as their symptoms are probably not indicative of mental illness. Short-term anti-anxiety meds may do some good.

I do think the pandemic and the reactions to it have been triggering for many people who do have mental health conditions. People with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) who are germophobic saw their most extreme fears become reality. People who have seasonal affective disorder (SAD) may have struggled more with the lack of

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Many people have been blaming COVID-19 for depression and other mental health problems. They have said that quarantining and uncertainty have raised the level of anxiety in the general population, and quarantining has caused depression. These increased levels may be — probably are — accurately reported, but I don’t think they necessarily indicate an increase in the incidence of mental illness in our society.
Some of my most vivid memories from childhood involve getting yelled at by my physical education teacher. While I excelled academically during school, I could never run like my classmates. I was unable to do pullups and was afraid of getting knocked down and embarrassed whenever we played football. My teacher blamed this on me being “lazy.” I was even told to run extra laps around the high school track while the rest of my class watched — it was my punishment for being disobedient. I did not know until I was in my late 30s that my “laziness” was actually caused by a form of centronuclear myopathy (CNM).

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