One of the more common measures put into place around the globe was lockdown orders—orders wherein a community, state, or country was ordered to stay home unless an emergency or certain type of work demanded it. Although the initial goal of flattening the curve to make sure hospitals were not overwhelmed worked in many places around the world, these places also saw the onset of unintended (and perhaps unexpected) consequences, including a significant leap in mental health decline.
Potential Drawbacks of Lockdown for People with Mental Illness
While many news outlets and governments were quick to identify the members of the population vulnerable to Covid-19, other health concerns were largely overlooked, including mental health and how it would be impacted by quarantines, lockdowns, and stay at home orders. Nevertheless, mental health professionals recognized the potential pitfalls. One study conducted in the U.K. found that people with existing mental health conditions were more likely to experience significant distress as a consequence of the lockdown measures enacted for the coronavirus. Although the study focused on people specifically from the United Kingdom, it stands to reason that this would be the case elsewhere, too; people who already had a diagnosis or the symptoms of depression and anxiety were more likely to experience a surge of symptoms as a direct consequence of lockdown measures.
While it may not initially seem problematic for people already living with mental illness to experience a surge in symptoms, most mental illnesses are managed through therapy—therapy that was (in most cases) also brought to a screeching halt during lockdowns. A surge in symptoms without the availability of consistent treatment options could quickly spell disaster and create a “layering effect,” according to one specialist; after all, mental illness symptoms do not exist entirely in a person’s mind. Instead, mental illness can have deleterious effects on all aspects of someone’s life, including their emotional and physical health, their work performance, and their relationships. A surge in symptoms could lead to a tailspin, resulting in suspension or firing from work (if work was still being conducted), the loss of relationships, and the degradation of physical health.
A surge in symptoms without the option of seeing a therapist in person and increasing visits to combat a huge upswing in symptoms is another possible issue with lockdown measures. While many medical offices were still open for telehealth appointments, these appointments might not be able to approximate a long-standing therapy session with a trusted therapist. Medication issues could also compound during this time; as doctor’s offices and pharmacies were flooded with illnesses and people began stockpiling out of fear, some medications and simple self-care and health items became difficult to come by.
BetterHelp: Easing Some of the Burden
As lockdown orders persisted, people found themselves isolated not only from their loved ones and friends, but also from coworkers, community members, and mental health practitioners. Companies like BetterHelp were able to ease some of these burdens; by offering mental health services online or over the phone, people with existing mental health conditions and people experiencing the onset of symptoms, alike, were able to access services to help alleviate symptoms and cope with the many changes brought about by Covid-19. While telehealth might not completely fill the void left behind by lockdown orders, it certainly has a hand in making sure people are able to access mental health services—even when facing the onslaught of a global pandemic.
Lockdown and Mental Health
Online therapy outlets are important, but there are some respects in which they cannot compete with traditional in-office therapy, the most pressing of which being prescribing medication. Some mental illnesses can be treated via talk therapy and other therapy methods requiring little more than a therapist, a client, and a means of connecting, but others require consistent pharmaceutical medications, which require careful observation.
Although it cannot be denied that lockdown measures were a legitimate response to the novel coronavirus, it is also true that lockdown has had a host of consequences, including economic consequences, health consequences, and mental health consequences. These consequences have ranged in severity. Some states and countries have experienced minor disruption in these areas, while others have seen dramatic upheavals. In either case, though, lockdown has brought with it the intended consequences (decreased case numbers, and a curve-flattening effect for local hospitals), as well as the unintended consequences—namely, the upswing in people experiencing symptoms of depression and anxiety. Companies like BetterHelp offering online therapy can mitigate some of the damages brought about by lockdown orders, but there may be far-reaching consequences that have not yet materialized.