Impact of Covid-19 on mental health
Cláudia Mara de Melo Tavares
Fluminense Federal University
When we least expected it, the fear of death resurfaced with all its ancestral force. Until
then, the majority of the world's population was experiencing a kind of sedation of the
senses about the impacts of the misery caused by the global economy on people's mental
health. And in the extreme era of globalization, when we had already become
accustomed to the illusory comfort promoted by the consumer society, here comes a
virus that makes us wake up from the sweet and warm maternal lap of capitalism.
The state of psychic vulnerability in which we live, in this global village, was until then,
denied and stigmatized although, the world's mental health indicators, even before the
pandemic, already showed the abyss in which we were stuck as humanity, in the face of
the chaos of the patriarchal, productivist, and capitalist model of society. How to stay
mentally healthy in the face of growthism, unbridled consumerism, environmental
degradation, and extreme poverty?
The determinants of mental health and mental disorders include not only individual
characteristics, but also social, cultural, economic, political, and environmental factors.
And, of course, illness does not affect everyone in the same way or intensity.
The impact of the new coronavirus has affected everyone's mental wellbeing, intensifying
the effects of another pandemic that society had been facing for years but had been
silenced by stigma mental illness. The burden of mental disorders continues to grow
worldwide, with significant impacts on health, human rights, and the economy in all
The pandemic of COVID-19 has aggravated the effects of disease and mental disorders,
such as depression, stress, anxiety, and drug abuse. In Brazil, as in other countries, the
most vulnerable populations have been overly harmed by the pandemic's destructive
effects, which, in turn, potentiate inequalities, exclusions, and social inequities. However,
the crisis in Brazil is further aggravated by the dysfunctional way in which the current
government has dealt with it denialism, reduction of funds to support scientific
research and public service, systematic attack on the Brazil's unified health system
(SUS), and deconstruction of public policies to support the poorest populations.
The increase in psychic symptoms and mental disorders during the Pandemic has been
very significant. Among the possible causes of this increase, highlights include: the direct
action of the virus on the central nervous system; traumatic experiences associated with
infection or death of close people; stress induced by the change in routine due to social
distancing measures; changes in work routines or affective relationships; interruption of
treatment due to difficulties in accessing the service, among others.
In addition, prolonged living together within the home has augmented the risk of
maladjustment in family dynamics. Added to this are income reductions and
unemployment, which further worsen the strain on families. And, also, the deaths of
loved ones in a short period of time, along with the difficulty to perform the farewell
rituals, hindering the grieving experience and preventing the adequate resignification of
losses, increasing stress
These scenarios are not independent. That is, a person may have been exposed to
several of these situations at the same time, which will expand the risk of developing or
worsening existing mental disorders. Moreover, we live in a moment of uncertainty about
the future, since we are not free of new variants or pandemics by other types of viruses.
And it seems that inequality will broaden and the harmful effects of globalization will
People with mental disorders need support from health and social care services, and this
assistance is still not guaranteed for everyone who needs it, not to mention the poor
quality of care. According to World Health Organization (WHO)the pandemic of COVID-
19 has disrupted essential mental health services in almost all countries, while the
demand for mental health is rising.
The Pandemic that affected all of humanity had a strong negative impact on the mental
health of nursing professionals. In addition to the severe effects of COVID-19, these
professionals experienced, since the beginning of the pandemic, excessive workload, risk
of contamination, lack of Individual Protection Equipment (IPE), pressure from
organizations and society, isolation, discrimination/stigma, ethical dilemmas in
performing procedures, among others. Such circumstances triggered: Burnout syndrome,
irritability, stress, anxiety disorders, depressive disorders, self-medication, emotional
disorders, impotence, severe mental illness, sleep disorder, eating disorders, fear and
insecurity of contaminating family members, drug/medication use and deaths
It is worth noting that, even before the Pandemic, nursing professionals were already
experiencing many of these problems. And, with the majority of this profession being
made up of black women, other factors add up. Women assume the responsibility and
most of the domestic and caregiving tasks. Moreover, different forms of violence against
women have persisted and expanded in Brazil, with black women being the most affected
by domestic violence
Another relevant context that affects us as educators is mental health in the university
context. How is mental health in our academic environment? What is the role of the
university and of each of us in promoting the mental health of students, faculty, staff,
and society?
We live, in the academic environment, in a time of toxic productivity, with no room for
creation outside the international molds of knowledge production. We have been falling ill
as practitioners of the scientific community's self-limiting cognitive model, which causes
the community not to realize that its capacity to act on reality is much greater than that
which this model presupposes. Capitalist techno-science, focused on satisfying the
interests of the global economy - very well-designed and entrenched mainly in graduate
studies - competes with the timid and still embryonic experience of solidary science,
based on a critical perspective of education and focused on satisfying collective needs. In
our classrooms, we observe undergraduates and graduate students with symptoms of
anxiety, anguish, depression, hopelessness and suicidal ideation, while among professors
we observe depression, irritability, sleep disturbance, exhaustion, anger, use of
tranquilizers and others.
The construction of alternative scenarios is fundamental to overcome the crisis of capital
expressed in the pandemic. Our inner life bypasses all this quest for knowledge-
merchandise, we dehumanize and sacrifice ourselves, become workaholic with pride;
compulsive, anxious, and agitated with vanity. Nor do we find ourselves in time-space,
and we alienatedly dream of an infinite existence. Were we healthy before the Pandemic?
Is the world becoming abnormal?
Eternally excluded from each other, with no time for the starry sky or to step on the wet
earth. Is it possible to experience the feeling of integration away from nature? Without
this connection to the Earth, it is possible to obtain the energy necessary to develop our
natural gifts, abilities, and talents? Or don't you need to! We have models, processes,
routines and protocols that make it possible to produce a little more, or a lot more, of the
same. Without this connection with the Earth, with people and their wonderful
differences, many plans and dreams will disappear because they will find no way to
manifest themselves. Only through the connection with each other and the Earth can we
keep active the ability to create infinitely.
More than ever, we need to humanize ourselves! We need to know how to care! To take
care of the planet, of the other, to know how to take care of ourselves, of our emotions
and our affections. Share dreams, weave tomorrow, the collective becoming, survive...
Are we facing a new time? Probably yes.
We went to sleep in one world, woke up in another. It is hard to explain the feeling of
strangeness that we are living. Art anticipates everything, but we don't realize it. In The
, Franz Kafka already sensed this. One morning, awakening from
disquieting dreams, Gregory Samsa found himself in bed transformed into a monstrous
insect. Like the character, faced with this terrible Pandemic, the social isolation it
imposed, and the magnifying glass it put on inequalities and their effects on humanity,
even though very upset, we are forced to deal with reality. How will we turn around?
How can we expect a cure for that which essentially derives from what we desire in the
contemporary world - to consume? What mental health is possible to build in the face of
the Pandemic, its aggravations and pre-determinations?
Empathy has become the watchword. Times of crisis are also times of transformation.
The nightmare we are living collectively calls us to another way of being in the world - a
more empathetic one. We need to recognize and learn to support that the other exists
and desires as we do; that they are hungry and have needs.
We live in a time of waiting and anguish. Who will humanity be after this experience with
the Pandemic? In this time of strangeness and amazement, we are led to think about the
fragility in which we are built, to think about our insufficiency, interdependence, and
death itself. An opportunity to deepen the experience of self-knowledge.
And, while we wait and face this enormous collective-existential challenge, we must
hope. Our ability to confront it is related to the limitations of life scenarios, work
experiences, access to health care and assistance, and difficulties imposed by the
overlapping inequities. But beyond this, it is also associated to affections, human
creativity, and our ability to say yes to life - even in its toughest and strangest problems.
Nevertheless, we must maintain hope and activate it through our creative imagination.
In the Autopoise Theory, Maturana and Varela
describe that humanity has the capacity
to reconstruct the world and continuously produce itself, but evolution only comes from
care. Without love and acceptance of the other next to us, there is no socialization, and,
without this, there is no humanity. Each living individual is what he or she constructs
from his or her perception, that is, from his or her worldview, while this same reality also
reflects back on the individual, constructing him or her.
More than ever, we need to humanize ourselves. We need to know how to take care of
ourselves, our emotions and affections. The emotions experienced in this Pandemic can
lead us to use our power favoring life through a "collective hope".
Sharing dreams, weaving tomorrow, the collective becoming, surviving... Are we facing a
new time? Probably yes.
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