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COVID-19 Quarantine and Mental Health


Dr. Gayani DeSilva MD


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Gayani DeSilva is a Child Adolescent Psychiatrist with 20 years experience. She is the author of A Psychiatrists Guide: Helping Parents Reach Their Depressed Tween, and A Psychiatrists Guide: Stop Teen Addiction Before It Starts.

Being quarantined and isolated might be one of the most stressful experiences that we share globally.  This is traumatic for many people and this will have some immediate traumatic reaactions and longer term tr4aumatic symptoms.  Some people may develop post-traumatic stress disorder, acute stress disorder, depression, and substance abuse disorders. The elderly are particularly at risk of developing depression and suicidal behavior.


Acute trama reactions will be poor sleep, loss of appetite, being hypervigilent, some panic and anxiety attacks, a sense of foreshortened future, feeling cut off from others, being irritable and on edge, and stratling easily. People who are acutely stressed will behave in ways gthat are not their normal.  Try to be patient with each other and tolerant of a wide range of behaviors.  The way to handle this increased stress and trauma is to pay attention to your basic needs, and to give yourself more nuturance and compassion. Get outside, feel th esun on your face. Breath fresh air. Limit your exposure to the news and social media about COVID-19.


Post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms will be similar to the acute stress, but will persist past 3 months. Many people will sugger from Post-traumatic stress dissorder. Counselling will be helpful and for some people medications such as Prozac, Zoloft, Trintellix, Remeron, Celexa, or Lexapro will be helpful. Try to avoid benzodiazepines like xanax, valium and ativan as these medicationsa re addictive and do not treat the actual anxiety disorder, and may make you more depressed.


Depression is another very common consequence of this quarantine.  Symptoms will be irritability, poor sleep, changes win appetite, low energy, loss of intrest in activities, withdrawing, isolating, negative thoughts, thoughts of death an dying, suicidal thoughts homicidla thoughts, hopelessness, feeligs of guilt, maybe hallucinations and paranoia. Definitely seek help from a mental health professional if you feel any of these symtpoms.  If you have 5 or more symptoms you may meet the diagnosis of a major depressioon.


I cannot stress how important it is for us to care for our elderly population.  They are at very high risk of suicide.  Reach out to your elderly parents and grandparents every day.  Use facetime and skype as often as you can.  Let the grandchildren interact with them via technology--play games via televideo platforms.  Spend time, not just checking in on symptoms. 


Substance abuse and dependency can be high at this time also.  Alcohol will increase depression and hopelessness. Try to find other was of coping.


Being in voluntary quarantine can feel like being in prison.  This isolation is a huge change to adjust to, and we may developsoewhat of a "prison mentality."  This is evident in the hoarding of resources--a "I am out to take care of me, not you" attitude. Try to fight this attitude, because we are not in prison.  Remind yourself that this is voluntary and temporary.  And, importantly, no one has done anything wrong to put us in this situation.  No one is to blame, and blaming is not helpful.  We need to practice feeling compassion for each other, and relate to each other's predictaments.


Mutual compassion, patience, and extension of assistance is the way we will all get through this with minimal emotional trauma.  When out of quarantine, we will also need to address the common trauma we have endured.  Attention to healing will be critical and extensive.  The more we can be aware of our mental health and address it NOW, the easier it will be to heal later.

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