After knowing the first effects of confinement, specialists warn: the coronavirus will be followed by a ‘pandemic’ of psychological problems, such as depression, phobias or post-traumatic stress syndrome, disorders that can last for several years.
“After the coronavirus, what is next is a pandemic of psychological problems that have not come to light because we are still confined,” said Miren Larrazabal, a member of the Official College of Psychology of Madrid.
“Everyone has had a hard time, confinement has not left anyone unscathed, and the long-term consequences can be devastating,” confirms Rocío García Torres, a psychologist specializing in emergencies and catastrophes, who is part of a team from the Spanish Ministry of Health that provides psychological care during the health emergency.
“The pandemic and the declaration of emergency have exposed us to the two hardest situations that human beings can face: loss and uncertainty,” says Macarena Valdés, a psychiatrist and member of the Spanish Society of Specialists in Post-traumatic Stress.
For this reason, she explains that many of the calls received, which rose dramatically during the period of isolation, were from people at the limit of their mental strength.
From dysfunctional symptoms to pathologies
According to Valdes, loss and uncertainty are the keys to what the pandemic unleashed in the field of mental health.
In this situation, she explains, some people have the necessary psychological tools: caution and precaution, two ‘adaptive mechanisms’ that allow them to get ahead, but not all have these capacities and enter denial phases that can cause mental health problems.
The pandemic, Valdes explains, will end up causing various pathologies that will require pharmacological treatments such as anxiety, depression, phobias, obsessive or adaptive disorders, the Post-ICU syndrome (of those who have gone through intensive care units in hospitals), or the so-called ‘ complicated duel.’
“Right now there are many people who have to take an anxiolytic to go to the supermarket for fear of contagion,” says Larrazabal, adding that some patients “have told me that they would not leave home until there is a vaccine because they need to be sure that they won’t catch it’.
Post-traumatic stress, the post-ICU syndrome and mourning without farewell
No one has lived through such difficult circumstances as the sick, their families, and healthcare personnel, faced with their fear of getting ill and the anguish of not having all the resources to save lives, all this “under a prolonged tension,” explains Valdes.
Their situation, Torres stresses, rises to the category of trauma due to having seen death up close and having been subjected to very harsh seasons of solitude, a situation that worsens in the case of patients who have undergone intensive care.
“In these units, the sick are in a hallucinatory world and leave there with memory problems, panic attacks, and great anguish. These patients have not yet come to our consultations, but they are going to be a significant flow,” anticipates Valdes.
Another of the pathologies that the intensive care unit entails is that of ‘complicated duels,’ which occur due to the prohibition on the relatives of the deceased to say goodbye to them in real-time, so’ they cannot make a perception of what happened and the duel gets caught in the denial phase”, explained the psychiatrist.
Awakening from primitive fear
Without living the traumatic experience of the hospital, society as a whole will suffer post-traumatic stress, because, according to Larrazabal, to home isolation.
“The mind seeks assurances, we are not biologically constituted for uncertainty, although what we should do from a therapeutic point of view is accept it,” he maintains.
Torres also advances long-term psychological consequences, because of the experience and the uncertainty created by the economic crisis: ‘The other day a woman called who said that she was going to kill herself because she saw no solution to her problems.
She had a hairdresser, she went in for products to start attending the home, but the local police saw her and fined her 2,000 euros. I cried without consolation because I had no money to pay the rent’.
These specialists foresee that only a few will be able to complete this process of change, but whoever achieves it will have taken the first step to contribute to a ‘more humane and caring’ society.