Research Snapshot: Focus on mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic: Applying learnings from past outbreaks

What you need to know

Researchers conducted a literature review to evaluate and study similar outbreaks from the past related to SARS, MERS, influenza, and Ebola. Their goal was to understand the adverse effects pandemics have on people’s mental health and well-being and to identify strategies and interventions that can be implemented, including information on psychological first aid. The authors found that learnings from past outbreaks can help determine what steps government officials, policy-makers, and medical organizations and regulatory bodies need to take to minimize the effect of COVID-19 on the mental health and well-being of all individuals.

 

This Research Snapshot looks at the article, "Focus on Mental Health During the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic: Applying Learnings from the Past Outbreak,” which was published in Cureus 2020. Read it below or download the PDF.

Research Snapshots are brief, clear language summaries of research articles, presented in a user-friendly format.

What is this research about? 

The 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is an infectious disease that first emerged in China in December 2019. The World Health Organization (WHO) declared it a global pandemic on March 11, 2020. Nearly 118,000 cases were detected in over 114 countries by March 17, 2020.

COVID-19 is spread through person-to-person contact and causes mild, moderate, or severe respiratory illness. Cough, fever, and difficulty breathing are the most common symptoms. Currently, there is no vaccine available. Governments in various countries have declared national emergencies and recommend measures such as social distancing and quarantine to stop the spread.

Little attention has been paid to how this pandemic is affecting the mental health and well-being of patients, at-risk population groups, health care professionals, and the general public. Knowing the impact of past epidemics and how they affected the mental health of community members and health care workers can help countries implement effective interventions during COVID-19.

What did the researchers do?

The researchers conducted a literature review looking at articles focusing on current issues and interventions that could help during the COVID-19 pandemic. Their goal was to understand how pandemics impact the mental health of patients, at-risk population groups and health care professionals, and to highlight mental health and psychological first aid interventions.

What did the researchers find?

The researchers found similarities between COVID-19, SARS, MERS, and Ebola in terms of the huge impact they have on the mental health and well-being of people. Similar to past pandemics, COVID-19 has created fear and worry, leading to emotional distress and anxiety among individuals impacted by the pandemic. It has also impacted medical health professionals who are showing signs of developing posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and anxiety due to the increase in the number of infected cases they see in hospitals. The researchers highlighted measures individuals need to take to avoid the mental health effects of COVID-19, such as:

  • limiting exposure to media coverage
  • maintaining a healthy diet and positive lifestyle
  • reaching out and keeping in touch with family and friends
  • seeking information from only reputable government sources.


They also highlighted themes and mental health strategies used in past pandemics that government officials, policy-makers and medical organizations and regulatory bodies should take during the COVID-19 pandemic, such as:

  • establishing psychiatric treatment teams early on to deliver mental health supports to individuals in need
  • providing clear, concise and accurate information on the prevalence of COVID-19 to medical health professionals and the general public
  • providing and promoting telepsychiatry and telemedicine psychological counselling through secure electronic information-sharing platforms
  • eliminating cases of isolation among at-risk population groups
  • creating awareness and online training on the management of COVID-19
  • providing individuals with a mental health disorder with timely ongoing treatment, such as behavioural therapy, to reduce the mental health effects of the pandemic
  • investing in research and ongoing clinical trials to identify effective antiviral prophylaxis treatment for COVID-19.

Limitations and next steps

The authors did not identify any limitations.

About the researchers

Kaushal Shah,1 Dhwani Kamrai,1 Hema Mekala,1 Birinder Mann,1 Krishna Desai,2 Rikinkumar S. Patel1

  1. Psychiatry, Griffin Memorial Hospital, Norman, OK, U.S.
  2. Internal Medicine, Terna Medical College, Mumbai, India

Keywords

COVID-19, corona virus, 2019-ncov, pandemic, social and behavioural epidemiology, mental health services, behavioural problem

This Research Snapshot is based on the article, “Focus on Mental Health During the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic: Applying Learnings from the Past Outbreak,” which was published in Cureus 2020. DOI: 10.7759/cureus.7405. This summary was written by Rupinder Chera.