Everybody knows the effects of the corona virus on our everyday life. Whether being constantly bored, playing Animal Crossing on the Nintendo or trying out new hobbies. While some try jogging or home workouts, many people do less exercise than before. Numerous people also have money problems, and everybody knows someone who has lost their job because of the corona pandemic. In addition to unemployment, one is faced with self-isolation and loneliness.
Our entire life revolves around Corona. We talk about the influences on our job, the influences on our sport and the influences on our social contacts. But why don’t we talk about the loneliness-induced strain on our mental health?
To address this question and more, an interview was conducted with Ilse Zimmermann, doctor of psychiatry and psychology, and Dr. Thomas Unterbrink, psychiatrist and specialist in psychosomatic disorders.
What is a Mental Illness?
According to Ranna Parekh, “Mental illnesses are health conditions involving changes in emotion, thinking or behavior (or a combination of these). Mental illnesses are associated with distress and/or problems functioning in social, work or family activities. “. Mental illnesses refer to all diagnosable mental disorders.
Signs of good Mental Health are productive activities, healthy relationships and the ability to adapt to change. “Mental health is the foundation for emotions, thinking, communication, learning, resilience and self-esteem. Mental health is also key to relationships, personal and emotional well-being and contributing to community or society.”. Just like a heart disease, mental illness is a treatable medical condition.
Mental Illness in the Everyday Life
Regarding the establishment of mental health in our everyday life, according to Unterbrink, much has improved in recent years. The topics of depression and anxiety are much more accepted, so that you no longer have to fake back pain, but can simply say “I am depressed”. But if the question of which mask suits the outfit is still more important than the worry about mental health, it has not yet reached the everyday life enough.
While dealing with this topic, the question regarding the consequences of addressing it arises. Contrary to popular belief, according to Unterbrink, the number of self-diagnoses is not increased by establishing talk about depression in everyday life. The problem is not how much you talk about mental disorders, but how you talk about it. When it comes to i.e. suicidality, it is very important to talk about it, even if the environment is uncomfortable or scary. In most cases, finding someone to share your thoughts with, however difficult, is relieving. Addressing the problem usually doesn’t make it worse. Rather, it gets worse because it is not addressed.
Zimmermann adds, that in terms of the overall situation, people are less shy about getting treatment than before and the earlier treatment is started, the better. Often only hearing that their thoughts are not a mental disorder is helpful. The feeling of normalcy and understanding of your own illness can improve the situation a lot. Also, greater understanding creates more sensitivity in the society itself. This also directly results in less shame for the disease if the sufferers know that there are people who understand it.
Mental Illness in the Corona Pandemic
Now to the topic of what influence the corona crisis has on mental health. In general, according to Unterbrink, the weaker you get, the more symptoms you have. Weakness can mean any kind of stress. In this case, the corona situation affects many people, which is why the symptoms become more severe. Some things that have strengthened you beforehand (e.g. a life partner) are limited by the pandemic, which can cause symptoms. There are few people who are more stable in the corona pandemic than before.
Zimmermann adds that the answer is not as easy as it looks at first glance regarding certain aspects. Some illnesses have actually gotten better. People with fears, for example, are quickly stressed by a lot of human contact and large crowds. The current situation with empty streets is therefore pure relaxation for these people. The situation is also better for partial depressants.
Nevertheless, there are far more deteriorated mental health conditions than improved ones. Depression, anxiety disorders and pain disorders in particular have worsened during the crisis. People who are dependent on the ability to move under instruction and people who are dependent on other people due to physical ailments, are in a worse position, too.
In Germany, about 27.8% of the adult population are affected by a mental illness every year. This corresponds to around 17.8 million affected people. The most common diseases include anxiety disorders, followed by mood disorders and disorders caused by alcohol or medication consumption. While a mental illness can occur at any age, three-fourths of all mental illness begins by age 24.
But when exactly should one get professional help? According to Zimmermann, if you find that you have limitations in your life that make it difficult or impossible for you to live the life you want, then you should get professional help. Because then you are also motivated to change something. Unterbrink adds to that, that talking about this topic with friends and family is important, but the moment you realize that the everyday contact with family and friends is no longer a relief, you should also get professional help. The subjective suffering is the measure of all things.
To illustrate “subjective suffering”: A banker who works in an office with glass windows on the 17th floor and is afraid of heights will need treatment sooner than the grain farmer, who has lived in a farm for his whole life. Because the farmer’s life is not restricted by fear of heights.
Warning Sign and Symptoms
MHA has compiled a listing of warning signs and symptoms for adults, young adults and adolescents:
- Confused thinking
- Prolonged depression (sadness or irritability)
- Feelings of extreme highs and lows
- Excessive fears, worries and anxieties
- Social withdrawal
- Dramatic changes in eating or sleeping habits
- Strong feelings of anger
- Strange thoughts (delusions)
- Seeing or hearing things that aren’t there (hallucinations)
- Growing inability to cope with daily problems and activities
- Suicidal thoughts
- Numerous unexplained physical ailments
- Substance use
Tips to Deal with the Pandemic
In general, Unterbrink says that those who are afraid need security. So, everyone should ask themselves “What gives me security?”.
But for this specific situation, Zimmermann collected some tips to deal with the crisis. If you are afraid of the virus: inform yourself (but only use reputable sources)! This can limit the fear of the disease.
However, in recent weeks it has become clear that most people are much more afraid of the consequences of lockdown. Whether it is economic consequences, insecurity on the job market or tensions in the family. In order not to be overwhelmed, Zimmermann recommends being aware that many people find themselves in a similar, if not the same situation, and accordingly there is a lot of solidarity between them.
During global crises like the current one, “cushioning” by the state is often the case. In addition to the option of state support, it should also be remembered that every crisis is temporary, so the situation will recover. One should also keep in mind to compare the relatively good situation in Germany with other countries that got it worse. But what is always important, of course, is to communicate with other people around you and share your concerns.
If you want to learn more about the signs and symptoms of mental illness, here is the MHA website, where you can inform yourself about different types of mental illnesses. And here you can find addresses of self-help organizations, emergency numbers and links in Germany.
If you need an immediate contact point at the FH Kiel, the Student Guidance is a study guidance service for the needs of current and prospective students. In addition to the study problem advice, it also includes other contact points, such as the psychological advice center of the Studentenwerk.
If you have already decided to contact a psychologist, here is an option to find a psychologist in your region in Germany.