The influence of the COVID-19 pandemic has been significant, and in addition to the economic and social hardships accompanying the burden on the healthcare systems worldwide, the impacts on the population’s mental health outcomes have turned out to be extremely strong. Addressing this problem requires the full participation of stakeholders both locally and globally to create a sustainable mechanism for helping vulnerable groups and reducing negative manifestations of anxiety. In addition, specific manifestations of mental health issues in different areas are critical to assess to determine adequate mitigation tools and approaches.
The situation is challenging because different age groups are involved as vulnerable categories subject to the negative impact of social constraints and limitations on mental health outcomes. For instance, a study by Canadian researchers has shown significantly higher levels of anxiety among the younger population (36%) compared to that of older adults (14.5%) (El-Gabalawy & Sommer, 2021, para. 5). With regard to the Australian national healthcare system, according to the local mental health services, in 2019-2020, 11.2% of the country’s population benefited from Medicare-subsidized services in this area, an increase of 6.2% more than a decade ago (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2021).
This work is aimed at uncovering the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on mental health outcomes across four domains – workforce, demographics, economics, and capability well-being. To evaluate the manifestations of these issues, relevant studies and official reports will be utilized as a justification base. Addressing mental health issues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic is a valuable perspective to be realized through effective interventions to prevent pre-epidemic mistakes and use adequate resources to help target populations.
Areas of Global Impact
From the perspective of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on global mental health, anxiety symptoms in different countries have increased significantly. According to the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD, 2021), the average in Australia was 21%, while before the pandemic, this parameter was 13%. However, in comparison with other global indicators, these numbers are not the greatest. For instance, in the UK, this parameter is 39%, and in Mexico – 50% (OECD, 2021). In Figure 1, the information from different countries is shown, and pre-COVID and the current data are displayed in statistical ratio.
Depression, as one of the manifestations of mental health problems, has also become a more acute problem in a global context. In Figure 2, the same relationship is presented as in Figure 1, but as an object of assessment, depressive symptoms on a global scale are considered. Based on these data, the situation in Australia is difficult, but in some countries, such as Korea and Sweden, these rates are even higher (OECD, 2021).
As a result, addressing mental health problems requires making adequate decisions and comparing the current opportunities with those in the pre-epidemic period. In addition, specific issues in different domains are manifested, and their analysis may help uncover some common features the population has faced globally and offer relevant solutions at different levels. In these areas, manifestations of mental health problems will be examined from the perspectives of impacts on the workforce, demographics, including social hardship, economics, and capability well-being.
The consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic have had a significant negative impact not only on the mental health of those involved in the healthcare sector but also in other areas. Due to social constraints and restraints, for instance, long lockdowns, representatives of different professions have faced difficulties caused either by radical changes in their work schedules or by the lack of prospects due to the absence of demand for their type of activity in the new conditions of life. In their study, Khajuria et al. (2021) cite various factors that, based on responses from participants around the world, are directly associated with workforce issues and involve mental health problems as the consequences of these issues. The authors note unsatisfactory training, the lack of protective equipment, poor workplace support from managers, and, as a consequence, poor mental health assistance (Khajuria et al., 2021). All these problems, in turn, are prerequisites for the development of depressive symptoms and anxiety disorders.
Mental health problems have become critical factors associated with the risk of job loss. Based on the data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2021), according to the surveys of mental health sector employees in 2019, the vast majority of psychiatrists noted their important role as leading clinicians, which was due to a large flow of requests for qualified help. The study by Khajuria et al. (2021) found that over 60% of participants from 41 countries reported frequent depressive symptoms, and the most frequent complaints of emotional distress were among citizens of the USA and the UK (p. 6). The lack of adequate protective equipment correlated with depressive thoughts in more than half of the respondents (Khajuria et al., 2021, p. 8). These results confirm that, within the workforce domain, the problem of the development of mental health issues among representatives of different professions is acute due to the severe consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.
COVID-19 has been shown in clinical tests to affect older people more often than younger people due to weaker immunity and comorbidities in older people. As a consequence, the safety measures promoted globally to counter the spread of the coronavirus infection, particularly self-isolation, have affected older people more, and in the demographic domain, their mental health has proven to be more vulnerable. As Nkire et al. (2021) argue, mental health status influences “how well the population is able to comply with self-isolation and self-quarantine requirements” (p. 553468). As a result, the corresponding demographic criteria are the direct determinants of susceptibility to depression, anxiety, and other manifestations of mental disorders.
Individual characteristics are directly related to the social aspects of life. Nkire et al. (2021) note that among various demographic factors, employment status and age are the most significant criteria reflecting the relationship with mental health problems. Older people are forced to lead a more closed lifestyle. Reduced social contact, in turn, correlates with mental health negatively, and the lack of interaction with others can lead to cognitive-behavioral disorders (Nkire et al., 2021).
In their research, including data from 28 countries, Rains et al. (2021) demonstrate that loneliness, inadequate peer support, and poor access to social services are risk factors. Housing difficulties are also severe issues associated with the development of depressive moods (Rains et al., 2021). Thus, based on the data from different states, one can conclude that such social aspects as age, employment, the level of social contact, and housing conditions may correlate with the development of mental health problems in conditions of self-isolation.
From an economic perspective, mental health problems may be related to the lack of funds allocated to combat the effects of the pandemic and, therefore, ineffective medical care in this field. For instance, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2021), in Australia, compared with the period 1992-1993, the money spent in 2018-2019 was $10.6 billion (about 30 years ago, it was $3.2 billion).
However, not all countries can afford to spend a significant part of the budget on the provision of qualified psychological assistance to the population. Piltch-Loeb et al. (2021) cite data from the United States and note that the introduction of a lockdown at the national level led to the filing of applications for unemployment benefits from a fifth of the country’s residents (p. 106441). This means that such benefits as health insurance were not available to a large number of people, which, in turn, is also a prerequisite for the active development of depressive and anxiety symptoms.
The increase in the unemployment rate due to the pandemic is a risk factor that correlates with the problem of poor mental health. According to the OECD (2021), in the UK, where observation was conducted continuously for 20 weeks, increases in anxiety scores were noted among citizens with low levels of education and income. Long-term financial difficulties against the backdrop of job losses and the absence of the usual economic flows within countries have become the reasons for the deteriorating morale of many people, and this result is natural, given the standard indicators of the economic development of society. Thus, in the economic domain, mental health problems can manifest themselves actively due to difficulties in making a living in the face of social constraints and unemployment.
Capability Well-Being Issues
In the domain of capability well-being, poor mental health outcomes caused by the COVID-19 pandemic are crucial factors that complicate normal life for different people worldwide. Panchal et al. (2021) emphasize the hardships for mothers who faced high stress and depressive moods after children were transferred to home distance learning. Simon et al. (2021), who conduct a study among the Austrian population, state that capability well-being is directly associated with mental health and remark that, from the experience of past pandemics, “individuals who contracted the disease experienced fear, anxiety, emotional distress, and post-trauma stress symptoms” (p. 2).
Unclear development prospects, the lack of positive plans for the coming months, and other issues are the consequences of long-term social isolation. As a result, capability well-being drivers cannot be promoted successfully in such an environment, and mental health outcomes of people are deteriorating globally. Therefore, it becomes necessary to consider possible efforts and policies to address the aforementioned issues and assess the adequacy of pre-pandemic measures taken globally. This analysis can help identify potentially effective tools to reduce negative mental health outcomes and consider the ways to be prepared for future pandemics.
Strategies to Address the Areas of Global Impact
Pre-Pandemic Mental Health Systems
Global mental health systems were underdeveloped in the pre-COVID-19 period. According to the World Health Organization (WHO, 2020), previously, “countries were spending less than 2 per cent of their national health budgets on mental health, and struggling to meet their populations’ needs” (para. 3). The pandemic has shown that the need to address this health sector is of great importance to global health. Scholz (2021) offers a report of the European Parliament on this topic and also emphasizes that before the COVID-19 pandemic, in European countries, the mental health addressing policy was not sufficiently developed, and the massive quarantine revealed a number of problems affecting people’s emotional states. Thus, in the pre-pandemic period, mental health systems did not receive sufficient government support.
Useful Efforts to Address the Issues
To address the aforementioned issues concerning workforce, demographics, economic, and capability well-being implications of mental health outcomes during the COVID-19 pandemic, adequate measures need to be taken at different levels. At the government level, effective funding policies need to be promoted. Scholz (2021) states that, in addition to allocating budget funds, governments worldwide should integrate community-based services to interact with vulnerable populations. Specialized programs to help children, mothers, older adults, and other targeted patients may involve establishing stable access to mental health specialists’ services. Moreover, the employment system can be revised to stimulate the activities of employees in this field by increasing the number of educational scholarships and providing more jobs in local clinics.
At the organizational level, combining the efforts of different communities can be based on the involvement of various citizens in accordance with their social status. While taking into account the existing social constraints, the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE, 2021) focuses on addressing the problem through the demographic characteristics of the population. People with low income will be able to count on qualified assistance if special assistance programs are created in the workplace. Clinics can designate responsible staff to interact with patients with reduced mobility to maintain social contacts and monitor the mental state of the target audience. In addition, more attention should be paid to promoting projects that educate the public and help cope with anxiety and depressive symptoms.
Finally, at the individual level, additional channels of interaction with vulnerable populations need to be promoted. Due to limited contacts, people are forced to be in a state of social isolation. To help particularly difficult cases remotely, El-Gabalawy and Sommer (2021) recommend implementing online programs when the one-on-one interaction of the patient with the specialist takes place in real-time. Rains et al. (2021) also draw attention to the value of self-help techniques supervised by professionals, for instance, “exposure therapy or meditation” (p. 18). Such approaches may contribute to maintaining the mental health of the population even in conditions of social isolation and restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
To address different people’s mental health problems during the COVID-19 pandemic, relevant solutions at different levels need to be promoted. This healthcare sector has a number of gaps that became acute after the introduction of lockdowns globally. Both in Australia and in the rest of the world, people have difficulty adapting to living conditions outside of social contact, which can manifest as anxiety or depressive symptoms. In such domains as workforce, demographics, economics, and capability well-being, various issues emerge that relate to people’s distinctive social status, inadequate funding for the mental health industry, job losses, and other challenges.
To address these problems, solutions at the government, organizational, and individual levels need to be promoted to provide vulnerable populations with sufficient support. Efficient resource allocation and the expansion of mental health specialists, targeted community work, and remote patient-physician interaction are potentially valuable solutions to improve the current situation and correct mistakes in the management of this industry in the pre-epidemic period.
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