Social distancing could negatively affect mental health, experts say


MEMPHIS, Tenn. — As shelter-in-place orders begin across the country and social distancing is extended, medical experts believe COVID-19 could affect the population in more ways than one.

Doctors are concerned with long-lasting mental effects, along with the physical toll the virus can take.

Keeping people apart is a crucial step to avoid the spread of COVID-19.

“There’s definitely transmission occurring at younger age groups, and that’s part of why the mayors locally have issued orders like the stay-at-home order,” said David Sweat, chief of epidemiology at the Shelby County Health Department.

But social distancing is starting to have an unintended consequence. For anyone feeling differently during this global pandemic, you’re not alone.

“Even right now, they’re going through some distress, some disorientation, and it’s not that you can work harder or get on a certain schedule, and everything is going to be okay,” said Tom Starling, president of Mental Health America — Mid-South.

Doctors fear the trauma created during the COVID-19 outbreak will last long after the virus is contained.

Overwhelming fear about health, job security and even the loss of life could linger.

“The novelty of this virus, there’s never been anything like this for our generations anyway,” Starling said. “That has really begun to make people very nervous about what’s next.”

There’s no immediate solution for the damage done by a global pandemic, but experts believe healthy coping mechanisms in the moment could pay off down the road.

They said avoid self-medicating with alcohol, drugs or medicine. Instead, try to stay active and in-touch with loved ones.

“Reach out and talk to somebody,” Starling said. “The more connected you can be through this social distancing, the better off you’re going to be.”

For anyone dealing with mental health issues during the stay-at-home order, the CDC has tips and suggestions for coping with stress.

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