Mental health in the time of coronavirus

March 17, 2020, 8:39 PM UTC

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While quarantine is by far the best tool for quickly limiting the spread of an infectious disease, it comes at a high price. 

Sandro Galea, a physician, epidemiologist, author, and Robert A. Knox Professor at Boston University School of Public Health, says that the scars of quarantine will last long after the virus is contained.

While COVID-19 is the first epidemic of the social media age, there’s nothing high tech about the stress of isolation. Citing a study of the aftermath of SARS control in Toronto, Galea says these findings are a harbinger of things to come. “We found among quarantined persons a high prevalence of psychological distress, including symptoms of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD),” he writes in Psychology Today. This will be the next task facing the medical and public health communities. “A key takeaway: Even if we can halt the physical spread of a disease through the expeditious use of quarantine and social distancing, we will still have to contend with its mental health effects in the long-term.”

When thinking about already vulnerable communities, Galea’s work becomes even more compelling. 

In another study published this past January, he and his colleagues found significant upticks in depression and post-traumatic stress symptoms in communities who participated in protests, riots, and resistance efforts—the types of communities who are now disproportionately more likely to bear the long-term economic impact of quarantine and social distancing.

These are also typically the communities who were already chronically under-resourced and deeply stressed. And as research shows, the cognitive toll of being poor leads to a scarcity mindset and bad decision-making, which results in more stress and bad health.

It now feels like a triple-whammy of mental health problems coming down the pike. 

This is one reason why cash payments, like a universal basic income—or the temporary program inexplicably proposed by Senator Mitt Romney—have become popular ideas. While more research is needed, cash payments do appear to relieve psychological distress, particularly in the short term.

Even if the rationale is an economic one, anything to minimize stress would be a welcome fix.

“Every American adult should immediately receive $1,000 to help ensure families and workers can meet their short-term obligations and increase spending in the economy,” Romney said in a press release yesterday. “Congress took similar action during the 2001 and 2008 recessions. While expansions of paid leave, unemployment insurance, and SNAP benefits are crucial, the check will help fill the gaps for Americans that may not quickly navigate different government options.”

Now, it looks like the Trump administration is ready to move on the cash scheme, more here.

Needless to say, former presidential candidate Andrew Yang, who centered his campaign on a universal basic income, is “pumped” that the idea has gained traction.

“Putting money into people’s hands is the obvious thing to do in this situation,” he tweeted. “I hope Congress wakes up to this before it’s too late. Every day is enormous at this point.”

Ellen McGirt

On Point

Anxious about coronavirus? You’re definitely not alone, say therapists Here are some good tips to get you through some of the tough times of isolation—even if you're already on top of things, it’s smart to review them to make them even more intentional. If you can talk to a therapist online, do. Being able to see someone makes a difference, so absolutely schedule a video call with family and friends. And do limit the amount of news to the amount you can handle. But number four really got my attention: Be extra gentle with yourself. After all, this is actually a scary time. “When the world is being hard on us for good reason, it can be even easier to be hard on ourselves,” online therapist Allison Hart tells HuffPost.

Don’t count the Census out… just yet One of the other overlooked problems in the COVID-19 pipeline will be making sure the U.S. Census is completed this year. It’s already been a bumpy start, reports the Associated Press (AP), but the Census Bureau is working hard to hire the temporary workers they need to pull off the national headcount. But life under the coronavirus is a mixed bag. On one hand, it reveals a pool of laid-off workers newly available to hire as census takers, but whether anyone will feel comfortable traveling door-to-door during an epidemic is a big unknown. There’s a lot at stake. “Falling short could threaten the count in some parts of the country, which in turn could lead to underrepresentation in Congress and less federal funding,” says AP.
AP News

The Wing gets clipped again Here’s a tough but necessary read about the Wing, the feminist co-working space/movement/utopia, whose overhyped vision of fashionable female empowerment fell short. “Like the women’s clubs, consciousness-raising groups, feminist bookstores, and lesbian separatist womyn’s lands that came before it, the Wing’s organizing structure gestures at radical potential,” says Amanda Hess, setting up the brutal analysis to follow. But its biggest failures seem to be found in the lived experiences of its employees, who were promised equal status—including meaningful networking—in a new women’s world. “As the company rapidly expanded and new members flooded into crowded spaces, a chasm opened between members and the staff,” says Mull, based on interviews with 26 current and former Wing employees, “I was treated like a human kitty-litter box,” says one. Another says: “We were ‘the help.’”
New York Times

On Background

Bring John Legend into your home! Legend is one of many artists who is offering live free concerts or other entertaining moments on the social media platforms of their choice. Chris Martin of Coldplay delighted fans yesterday, as did Keith Urban—whose wife Nicole Kidman sang backup. Historians will note with uncharacteristic benevolence how little acts of creative generosity made a terrible time more tolerable. For more announcements, follow #TogetherAtHome on both Instagram and Twitter.
The Loop

Bring Fiona the hippo into your home! Museums are doing their part to keep you enriched and entertained, improvising livestreamed programming and otherwise sharing their world. The Cincinnati Zoo, home of sweet Fiona, now offers “Home Safaris” live via Facebook every weekday, and the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago delighted online fans yesterday when they let the penguins wander through the empty exhibit halls to “meet” the other animals who live there. “Wellington [a penguin] seemed most interested in the fishes in Amazon Rising!” they tweeted. “The black-barred silver dollars also seemed interested in their unusual visitor.” Awww.

Samantha Irby’s excellent adventure in television writing Irby was inexplicably tapped from her carbo-based Midwest lifestyle to join the writer’s room for Shrill, the book-to-Hulu series written and created by comedian and author Lindy West. Come for the hilarious anthropological insights. “I’m a Fat Bitch from the Midwest and I love accidentally running into minor celebrities with my cart in the wheatgrass aisle,” she begins. But the really good stuff happens later on, when she actually makes a mark on the life of protagonist Annie, lovingly described by Irby as a fat, single woman in a dead-end relationship with a dead-end job to match—and who deserves better from the world. Her contribution was a scene where Annie gets to actually see people who look like her, and who are enjoying their bodies and their lives. “It has always been obvious in regards to race, but with size I guess I’d never really thought about it that much because, well, that’s just the way things have always been.” Enjoy.
The Guardian

Tamara El-Waylly produces raceAhead and manages the op-ed program.


“Poverty is bleak and cuts off your long-term brain. It’s why you see people with four different babydaddies instead of one. You grab a bit of connection wherever you can to survive. You have no idea how strong the pull to feel worthwhile is. It’s more basic than food… Whatever happens in a month is probably going to be just about as indifferent as whatever happened today or last week. None of it matters. We don’t plan long term because if we do we’ll just get our hearts broken. It’s best not to hope. You just take what you can get as you spot it.”

KillerGibsons, an anonymous Gawker commenter, October 2013. Hat-tip: Derek Johnson, The Atlantic.

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