Coronavirus (COVID-19) & Mental Health

What do you want to know about coronavirus and mental health?

What is coronavirus (COVID-19)?

Coronaviruses (CoV) are a family of viruses that can cause respiratory illnesses that range from being mild, to being very severe. There have been some coronavirus outbreaks in the past, for example:

  • Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) 
  • Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV)

However, at the end of 2019 there was a new coronavirus detected in Wuhan, China that led to the current global pandemic. The virus that caused this global pandemic is called Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), and the disease that it causes people to develop is called Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19).

Young man with coronavirus (COVID-19) wearing a mask and looking outside of a window.

What are the physical symptoms of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19)?

COVID-19 causes symptoms which range from a mild cough and fever, to a fatal respiratory infection. The danger of death from COVID-19 has resulted in a worldwide lockdown to try to slow down its spread. 

The government lockdowns have completely changed the way we live our day to day lives, and it is likely that they will be in place for at least several more months.

Although the lockdown restrictions are vital in terms of stopping the spread and reducing the number of deaths from COVID-19, these measures and the situation itself have also had a significant impact on the mental health of a large number of people.

How has coronavirus (COVID-19) affected people’s mental health?

There are many different ways in which the pandemic has affected people’s mental health. 

People may be affected because of: 

  • Fear from the virus itself
  • The lockdown measures 
  • Concerns about money  
  • Concerns about the safety of family and friends

Some problems people may be facing include the following:

A woman with agoraphobia looking sad and gazing outside of her window.

Stress levels have increased for many people during these difficult times. This may be for a specific reason, or just because of the uncertainty and disruption to normal life. 

Man sitting at desk working from home feeling stressed out.

These feelings of stress may be brand new, or they may be a continuation of stress that was present in the past. Some of the reasons why people might be feeling stressed at the moment include:

  • Feeling isolated
  • Losing a loved one
  •  Worrying about their health and the health of their loved ones
  • Employment or money worries
  • Worrying about housing or shelter
  • Family or relationship issues
  • Childcare
  • Mental health problems
  • Anxiety about the current situation

Large gatherings have been prohibited in Iraq since February 27th, and as well as restricted travel and a curfew, this means that many people have not been able to see or visit friends and family. This can lead to feelings of loneliness, isolation and vulnerability which are all potential triggers for anxiety and depression

Older people may find themselves particularly isolated if they are apart from other family members, and are likely to find it more difficult to access supplies and services.

A young woman with depression sitting on her couch holding a cup of tea and looking thoughtful.

Sadly, the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in 1,437 deaths in Iraq5 from the virus at the time of writing. 

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Losing a loved one is always difficult, but the current restrictions mean that mourning and funeral traditions may have to be changed or postponed. This is distressing, but is necessary to try and slow the spread of the virus across the country and prevent further deaths. Networks of friends and family are particularly important and keeping in touch without breaking the restrictions can be really helpful to people struggling with loss.

The thought of becoming ill is enough to cause anxiety in most people, even before the pandemic began. Now that there is a very real risk of picking up this virus and becoming unwell, people are understandably worried about their health. This is even more worrying for certain groups of people who are at a greater risk, such as:

  • People with pre-existing health problems
  • People who take immunosuppressant medications
  • Pregnant women
  • Parents
  • Older people

Although the majority of people who get COVID-19 do not become seriously unwell, it is not always easy to predict who will suffer and who will not. This uncertainty can leave people feeling on edge and worried about what will happen to them if they get the virus.

Young woman laying in bed sick whilst someone takes her temperature.

Many people have found themselves unable to work due to the restrictions that are in place. Some may be able to work from home, but this may be difficult without a quiet area with all of the necessary equipment. 

People who are still able to work may be worried because they could risk catching this illness from their workplace, particularly if they don’t feel that they have been given enough personal protective equipment (PPE).

Mother with two kids trying to work from home but is being distracted.

Some workers may have had their hours cut or lost their jobs entirely which can have a huge knock on effect on whole families. With few jobs available at the moment, financial worries are a big source of anxiety and stress. Many people are also concerned about the country’s economy as a whole and how Iraq will recover from the financial damage that the pandemic has caused.

Young couple looking over their bills and finances.

It is completely understandable that friendships, personal and business relationships are suffering during such stressful times. This could be because of financial worries, having to isolate in a small space with others, or being kept away from those who live in different households. Any of these can cause a big strain on relationships, which in turn can have a negative effect on mental health. 

married couple fighting whilst their daughter covers her ears and cries.

Small issues that were present in a relationship before the pandemic began may now seem much worse and can get people down, especially as they may not be able to get time to themselves as they usually would. Worryingly, rates of domestic violence have also increased and support may not be easily available in Iraq.

Anxiety is thought to affect at least 15% of the Iraqi population and depression affects over 7%. This is likely to be much higher at the moment because of the COVID-19 situation which has left a lot of people feeling uncertain about their health and the future. 

Young girl with PTSD on her bed crying.

People with anxiety or depression may notice that they feel worse than usual and people who have not previously suffered from these problems may start to notice them. 

It is much harder to seek professional help during this time, and friends or family may not be able to offer the support they usually would because of the restrictions that are in place. However, it is vital that anyone feeling anxious or depressed seeks help even though it may be trickier than usual.

Around the world, racism towards certain ethnicities has increased due to the coronavirus pandemic. This tension is often due to a lack of understanding or education about the origins of the virus, and has led to racist attacks in some countries. There are no reported attacks in Iraq which can be directly linked to the pandemic, but it is still important to be aware of the issue and how it may affect some people’s mental health.

Which mental health symptoms might people be feeling during the coronavirus pandemic?

There is a huge range of feelings that people may have during the pandemic. Many of these do not form part of a mental health problem, such as anger around how the situation is being handled or sadness at the thought of people dying. However, sometimes these feelings can be more extreme and have an impact on daily life. In these cases, they may be a symptom of a mental health problem like anxiety or depression. Some of these feelings or symptoms may include:

  • Excessive worrying
  • Panic attacks
  • Poor appetite
  • Being unable to sleep or waking a lot in the night
  • Feeling very sad or low
  • Changes in behaviour

It isn’t always easy to tell whether somebody is suffering with their mental health. If you or somebody around you seems to have any of these symptoms, or if you are worried about someone, reach out to them and encourage them to seek professional help.

Tips for taking care of your mental health during COVID-19

Things you can do at home

Sometimes talking to a friend or family member can be helpful in working through difficult feelings and you may both find talking about what is happening to be reassuring. 

Try to eat healthily and get enough sleep and try and do some exercise if you can. You may not feel like doing these things but they have been shown to improve mental as well as physical health. 

Setting up a regular routine for your day can help you to structure your time, and make you feel as though you have a purpose. Morning routines in particular can help you start your day off positively.

You might also want to take a break from reading the news and using social media as sometimes it can be overwhelming. Constantly reading about the pandemic can be very emotionally and mentally draining, even if we do not realise it.

Try and only get information from trustworthy sources, such as the government or the World Health Organisation (WHO) and don’t believe everything that you hear from other people as they may have misheard, misunderstood or completely made something up! 

False information can not only increase your anxiety, but it can also be dangerous to the community to spread information that is not true or accurate.

There are a huge number of mental health resources available online. A simple internet search for mental health websites will provide you with a list to choose from so you can find something that suits you. You may wish to look for a website or app that explores mindfulness, which is a way of relieving stress and anxiety that you can do at home for free. 

You can also find groups of people feeling the same way online as well as contact information for support groups, crisis lines and professional help.

Apps & websites you can try:

Professional help for people suffering from anxiety or depression is likely to be in the form of a psychologist or a doctor who specialises in mental health problems, known as a psychiatrist. 

You can find their contact information online or through your family doctor. They are able to prescribe medications and offer more advanced treatments that you can’t get over the internet. However in Iraq, there is a shortage of psychiatrists and so you may find they have a long waiting list. 

It is still important to contact a professional if you have severe or worsening symptoms, or if they do not improve after you try the at-home measures suggested above.

Is everyone affected the same way?

Everyone will be affected differently by the coronavirus pandemic, both physically and mentally. For some people, it may not worry them at all as they wait for it to pass, whilst for others it may seem like a catastrophe that they cannot see a way out of.

Some people may even fear the easing of restrictions or be afraid for life to return to normal. It is important to help those that are struggling and understand that they may not be feeling the same way that you are.

How can you help others during this time?

Everyone will be affected differently, both physically and mentally, by the coronavirus pandemic. For some people, it may not worry them at all as they wait for it to pass, whilst for others it may seem like a catastrophe that they cannot see a way out of.

Some people may even fear the easing of restrictions or be afraid for life to return to normal. It is important to help those that are struggling and understand that they may not be feeling the same way that you are.

  • Following government rules on hygiene, social distancing and curfews
  • Reaching out to friends, family and colleagues
  • Offering emotional support to those who are unwell or have lost a loved one
  • Being patient and understanding with those around you
  • Supporting local businesses
  • Only spreading verified information from trusted sources
  • Signposting people towards online information and resources
Diverse group of people holding hands.

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  1. Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) Situation Report – 147. Who.int. (2020). Retrieved 16 June 2020 (Access here)
  2. Alhasnawi, S. et al (2009). The prevalence and correlates of DSM-IV disorders in the Iraq Mental Health Survey (IMHS). World Psychiatry, 8(2), 97-109. Retrieved 16 June 2020 (Access here)
  3. 10 tips to help if you are worried about coronavirus. NHS. (2020). Retrieved 16 June 2020 (Access here)
  4. Sadik, S., Bradley, M., Al-Hasoon, S., & Jenkins, R. (2010). Public perception of mental health in Iraq. International Journal Of Mental Health Systems, 4(1), 26. https://doi.org/10.1186/1752-4458-4-26 (Access here)
  5. John Hopkins University & Medicine – Coronavirus Resource Centre (Access here)

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