We Need a National Mental Health Response to Coronavirus

The mental health fallout of Covid-19 will be huge for health workers and all Americans

Alexandra Sifferlin
Elemental
Published in
11 min readApr 9, 2020

--

Photo: John Lamb/Getty Images

TThe greatest coronavirus-related risk America faces right now is from the virus itself, and the deadly disease it causes, Covid-19. There’s no drug or vaccine, the United States has a shortage of ventilators, and there’s not enough protective gear for health workers, putting those tasked with caring for the sick at the highest risk for infection.

But after a vaccine is developed, or cases are treated and isolated so that further spread can be contained, there will be lingering and persistent mental strain and trauma among those who survive.

Even people who aren’t sick will have been isolated in their homes for months at a time. Millions have lost their jobs. While the final death toll will be determined by the effectiveness of the response, the White House recently estimated it’s somewhere between 100,000 to 240,000 Americans (some projections are now lower). Most estimates are still projecting the pandemic could claim more American lives than the Vietnam War. Many of these deaths will happen in hospital rooms where loved ones are barred from entry and doctors’ faces are (rightfully) hidden behind masks and face shields.

“The extent of the consequences of Covid-19 are going to be with us for years, and I am terrified about that.”

“The extent of the consequences of Covid-19 are going to be with us for years, and I am terrified about that,” says Sandro Galea, MD, dean at the Boston University School of Public Health and an expert on mental health and disasters.

Past research on the mental health consequences of disasters — including epidemics — suggests there may be a significant increase in depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), domestic violence, and substance use problems. After the 2003 SARS pandemic, researchers found that the experience of being in quarantine was associated with higher rates of depression and PTSD symptoms, and the symptoms were greater the longer a person was sheltered. Other researchers found that high levels of stress and depression symptoms persisted…

--

--

Alexandra Sifferlin
Elemental

Health and science journalist. Former editor of Medium’s Covid-19 Blog and deputy editor at Elemental. TIME Magazine writer before that