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May 18, 2020

The COVID-19 Pandemic: Searching for Blessings in a Crisis

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Amit Ladani, MD, FACP; Muruga Loganathan, MD; and Steven Lippmann, MD

​Department of Medicine (Dr Ladani) and Department of Behavioral Medicine and Psychiatry (D​r Loganathan), West Virginia University School of Medicine, Morgantown, West Virginia, a​nd Department of Psychiatry, University of Louisville School of Medicine, Louisville, Kentucky (Dr Lippmann)

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Life changed in an instant. Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), a microscopic piece of RNA material, has stressed us out, quarantined us at home, drained trillions of dollars from the economy, changed our lives, and challenged our existence. So, can we survive? Everyone’s mind quickly goes from anxiety to depression and back to calm. COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on society, but could some blessings come from the crisis?

Any potentially positive outcomes are, understandably, obscured by the negatives: COVID-19 is an extremely contagious virus with a fatality rate higher than influenza. Death is rampant; statistics are frightening. COVID-19 has varying symptoms and an uncertain incubation period, and screening tests are not uniformly available, nor are all tests reliable. Unrecognized and asymptomatic presentations are widely prevalent, leading to further exposures. The severity ranges from mildly ill, with fever and fatigue, to dangerous pneumonias, with breathing difficulties that often require hospitalization. Intubation may be required during an acute respiratory syndrome induced by a cytokine storm cascade. Human immune systems react to viral antigens similar to how our minds react to the fear of a virus: resources are marshaled to attack the threat, but this response may be as damaging as the threat itself. Anxiety emerges and can be mentally and physically compromising. Some people handle such stress well, but in those who cannot, worry intensifies, resulting in overanxious shoppers, obsessive hoarders, insecure gun buyers, panicky feelings, and paranoid and suicidal thoughts. Cries for help abound.

Discussing COVID-19–related health issues and prognoses with patients and families is difficult. Moral issues arise for health care workers as they ration items or must choose between patients when providing treatment. Health care personnel are working under extreme pressure, while balancing family needs. Inadequate infection control measures add to their concerns. Fear of infection to self and family has an adverse psychological impact; pandemics may cause depression, anxiety, or posttraumatic stress disorder, especially among medical personnel.

Quarantining adds to discomfort. Extended isolation results in worsening mental health. Physical distancing increases boredom, disrupts daily routines, and limits access to essential services. Anger and violence become more prevalent. Maintaining employment, schooling, finances, and health is extremely challenging. Pandemic-related financial issues include high health care expenses, increased national debt, decline in stock markets, and business closures. With rising unemployment rates, a recession might follow. Misinformation from news channels and social media heightens worries.

But, what are some positive outcomes of the COVID-19 pandemic? As priorities change, every minute seems to reveal a new blessing. One’s health, family, and friends become more important. Social media contacts increase when in-person social interactions are restricted. People still prefer and benefit from interpersonal communication socially even though restricted by physical distancing. Lockdowns can cause isolation but also can potentially strengthen family relationships, increase intimacy, and add to appreciation of one another. Social connectedness currently receives more emphasis.

Old, ignored projects are completed and cleanliness is prioritized (eg, hand washing, house cleaning). With restaurant closures, many may make healthier food choices due to the necessity of home cooking. People adjust their spending habits and are more cognizant of their spending.

Health care systems reevaluate and improve their delivery systems and do so in a more safe and humane manner. Hospitalizations and supply purchases come under greater scrutiny. Health care systems go into high alert, and preventive measures peak.

Consideration for expanding medical insurance coverage and health care access has emerged. More measures are being taken to avoid inequalities, and there is now political concern about income disparities and racial unfairness. The current crisis has forced people to pay more attention to important aspects of life and less attention to superfluous pursuits. Despite the troubles that came with this epidemic, there are aspects we can use to improve our lives in the future.

Financial disclosure: Drs Ladani, Loganathan, and Lippmann have no relevant financial relationships to report.

Disclaimer: The views expressed are those of the authors and do not represent an official position of any universities.​

Category: COVID-19
Link to this post: https://www.psychiatrist.com/blog/the-covid-19-pandemic-searching-for-blessings-in-a-crisis/
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