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      The consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic on mental health and implications for clinical practice

      editorial
      1 , 2 , 3 , 4
      European Psychiatry
      Cambridge University Press

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          Abstract

          There is a wide consensus that the COVID-19 pandemic not only affects physical health, but also mental health and well-being [1,2]. The current pandemic is changing priorities for the general population, but it is also challenging the agenda of health professionals, including that of psychiatrists and other mental health professionals [3]. Everywhere in the world, psychiatric clinics are modifying their practice in order to guarantee care and support to persons with mental health problems, but also to those who are not mentally ill and are suffering from the psychosocial consequences of the pandemic. The number of those who will need psychiatric help is going to increase in the next weeks or months, requiring a reconsideration of our current practices. From a psychopathological viewpoint, the current pandemic is a relatively new form of stressor or trauma for mental health professionals [4]. It has been compared with natural disasters, such as earthquakes or tsunamis [5]. But in those cases, the emergencies are usually localized, limited to a specific area and to a given time; people know that they can escape, if they want to or if they have the possibility to do so [6]. It has also been compared with wars and international mass conflicts. But in those circumstances, the enemy is easily recognizable, while in pandemic the “threat” can be everywhere and it can be carried by the person next to us [7]. We consider that the mental health and psychosocial consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic may be particularly serious for at least four groups of people: (a) those who have been directly or indirectly in contact with the virus; (b) those who are already vulnerable to biological or psychosocial stressors (including people affected by mental health problems); (c) health professionals (because of higher level of exposure); and (d) even people who are following the news through numerous media channels. The pandemic and the related containment measures—namely quarantine, social distancing, and self-isolation—can have a detrimental impact on mental health. In particular, the increased loneliness and reduced social interactions are well-known risk factors for several mental disorders, including schizophrenia and major depression. Concerns about one’s own health and that of their beloved ones (particularly elderly or suffering from any physical illness), as well as uncertainty about the future, can generate or exacerbate fear, depression, and anxiety. If these concerns are prolonged, they may increase the risk of serious and disabling mental health conditions among adult males and females, including anxious disorders including panic, obsessive–compulsive, stress, and trauma-related disorders. A group at a particularly high risk is represented by infected people, physicians, and nurses working in emergency units and resuscitation departments. It is likely that in the next months—when the pandemic is over—we may have a shortage of health professionals due to burnout and mental exhaustion [8]. Another aspect which should be considered is related to stigma and discrimination toward infected people and their family members. Fighting social stigma toward those treating and caring for people with COVID-19 should be another priority for mental health professionals in the next months. Finally, Internet is spreading very rapidly a large amount of uncontrolled news. This information overload has been defined “infodemic,” with the risk of fake news running faster than the virus itself, and creating uncertainties and worries. This should be regulated by a continuous interaction with media and also by national regulations. Another consequence of the pandemic on mental health practice may be that psychiatric problems will be considered less important than physical ones. We should continue to advocate for our patients and their caregivers; our patients often need long-term treatment, continuous support and advices, personal meetings with their physicians or therapists. Their rights to be treated, also in a period of social distancing, should be preserved even though mental health services may be overloaded by a considerable number of requests for psychiatric consultations. Many of these psychosocial and mental health consequences of the pandemic will have to be addressed by psychiatrists and mental health professionals in the months to come. Most probably we will face an increase of mental health problems, behavioral disturbances, and substance-use disorders, as extreme stressors may exacerbate or induce psychiatric problems. In order to reduce the risk of developing mental health problems, simple advices may be provided to the general population: 1. Limit the sources of stress: to rely on a limited amount of official information sources only and to limit the time of the day devoted to this activity, disregarding those which come from unofficial channels and uncontrolled sources. 2. Break the isolation: to increase the communication with friends, family members, and loved ones, even if at a distance. Video-chat or group calls with family members may help to reduce loneliness and precariousness. In case of insufficient social network, professional helplines are particularly useful, if managed by qualified trained professionals. 3. Maintain your usual rhythm: keep a regular routine, by having regular sleep–wake rhythms and diet patterns. Addictive behaviors might be particularly at risk of rebound or relapses, therefore intellectual, physical, and social (even if virtual) activities will be useful. 4. Focus on the benefit of the isolation: we should indeed be conscious that this is a transient period and that this isolated time is needed as we are not only saving our health, but also protecting all others by stopping the epidemic, and therefore shaping our own future. 5. Ask for professional help: getting a psychiatric help or consultation, if the effects of stress is becoming too invasive, is always possible, even if with different modalities. Almost all psychiatric clinics are now equipped for providing support, emotional defusing, problem-solving strategies, and psychiatric consultations—also at a distance. The pandemic will be over, but its effects on mental health and well-being of the general population, health professionals, and vulnerable people will remain for a long time. We hope that all of the mental health community will have very quickly the opportunity to take care of patients in more conventional and personalized ways. Crises also reveal resilience skills and quality of links, the solidarity observed between European countries for severe cases (exchanging patients, material, and competencies) is a nice example to follow.

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          Timely mental health care for the 2019 novel coronavirus outbreak is urgently needed

          The 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) pneumonia, believed to have originated in a wet market in Wuhan, Hubei province, China at the end of 2019, has gained intense attention nationwide and globally. To lower the risk of further disease transmission, the authority in Wuhan suspended public transport indefinitely from Jan 23, 2020; similar measures were adopted soon in many other cities in China. As of Jan 25, 2020, 30 Chinese provinces, municipalities, and autonomous regions covering over 1·3 billion people have initiated first-level responses to major public health emergencies. A range of measures has been urgently adopted,1, 2 such as early identification and isolation of suspected and diagnosed cases, contact tracing and monitoring, collection of clinical data and biological samples from patients, dissemination of regional and national diagnostic criteria and expert treatment consensus, establishment of isolation units and hospitals, and prompt provision of medical supplies and external expert teams to Hubei province. The emergence of the 2019-nCoV pneumonia has parallels with the 2003 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), which was caused by another coronavirus that killed 349 of 5327 patients with confirmed infection in China. 3 Although the diseases have different clinical presentations,1, 4 the infectious cause, epidemiological features, fast transmission pattern, and insufficient preparedness of health authorities to address the outbreaks are similar. So far, mental health care for the patients and health professionals directly affected by the 2019-nCoV epidemic has been under-addressed, although the National Health Commission of China released the notification of basic principles for emergency psychological crisis interventions for the 2019-nCoV pneumonia on Jan 26, 2020. 5 This notification contained a reference to mental health problems and interventions that occurred during the 2003 SARS outbreak, and mentioned that mental health care should be provided for patients with 2019-nCoV pneumonitis, close contacts, suspected cases who are isolated at home, patients in fever clinics, families and friends of affected people, health professionals caring for infected patients, and the public who are in need. To date, epidemiological data on the mental health problems and psychiatric morbidity of those suspected or diagnosed with the 2019-nCoV and their treating health professionals have not been available; therefore how best to respond to challenges during the outbreak is unknown. The observations of mental health consequences and measures taken during the 2003 SARS outbreak could help inform health authorities and the public to provide mental health interventions to those who are in need. Patients with confirmed or suspected 2019-nCoV may experience fear of the consequences of infection with a potentially fatal new virus, and those in quarantine might experience boredom, loneliness, and anger. Furthermore, symptoms of the infection, such as fever, hypoxia, and cough, as well as adverse effects of treatment, such as insomnia caused by corticosteroids, could lead to worsening anxiety and mental distress. 2019-nCoV has been repeatedly described as a killer virus, for example on WeChat, which has perpetuated the sense of danger and uncertainty among health workers and the public. In the early phase of the SARS outbreak, a range of psychiatric morbidities, including persistent depression, anxiety, panic attacks, psychomotor excitement, psychotic symptoms, delirium, and even suicidality, were reported.6, 7 Mandatory contact tracing and 14 days quarantine, which form part of the public health responses to the 2019-nCoV pneumonia outbreak, could increase patients' anxiety and guilt about the effects of contagion, quarantine, and stigma on their families and friends. Health professionals, especially those working in hospitals caring for people with confirmed or suspected 2019-nCoV pneumonia, are vulnerable to both high risk of infection and mental health problems. They may also experience fear of contagion and spreading the virus to their families, friends, or colleagues. Health workers in a Beijing hospital who were quarantined, worked in high-risk clinical settings such as SARS units, or had family or friends who were infected with SARS, had substantially more post-traumatic stress symptoms than those without these experiences. 8 Health professionals who worked in SARS units and hospitals during the SARS outbreak also reported depression, anxiety, fear, and frustration.6, 9 Despite the common mental health problems and disorders found among patients and health workers in such settings, most health professionals working in isolation units and hospitals do not receive any training in providing mental health care. Timely mental health care needs to be developed urgently. Some methods used in the SARS outbreak could be helpful for the response to the 2019-nCoV outbreak. First, multidisciplinary mental health teams established by health authorities at regional and national levels (including psychiatrists, psychiatric nurses, clinical psychologists, and other mental health workers) should deliver mental health support to patients and health workers. Specialised psychiatric treatments and appropriate mental health services and facilities should be provided for patients with comorbid mental disorders. Second, clear communication with regular and accurate updates about the 2019-nCoV outbreak should be provided to both health workers and patients in order to address their sense of uncertainty and fear. Treatment plans, progress reports, and health status updates should be given to both patients and their families. Third, secure services should be set up to provide psychological counselling using electronic devices and applications (such as smartphones and WeChat) for affected patients, as well as their families and members of the public. Using safe communication channels between patients and families, such as smartphone communication and WeChat, should be encouraged to decrease isolation. Fourth, suspected and diagnosed patients with 2019-nCoV pneumonia as well as health professionals working in hospitals caring for infected patients should receive regular clinical screening for depression, anxiety, and suicidality by mental health workers. Timely psychiatric treatments should be provided for those presenting with more severe mental health problems. For most patients and health workers, emotional and behavioural responses are part of an adaptive response to extraordinary stress, and psychotherapy techniques such as those based on the stress-adaptation model might be helpful.7, 10 If psychotropic medications are used, such as those prescribed by psychiatrists for severe psychiatric comorbidities, 6 basic pharmacological treatment principles of ensuring minimum harm should be followed to reduce harmful effects of any interactions with 2019-nCoV and its treatments. In any biological disaster, themes of fear, uncertainty, and stigmatisation are common and may act as barriers to appropriate medical and mental health interventions. Based on experience from past serious novel pneumonia outbreaks globally and the psychosocial impact of viral epidemics, the development and implementation of mental health assessment, support, treatment, and services are crucial and pressing goals for the health response to the 2019-nCoV outbreak. © 2020 VW Pics/Science Photo Library 2020 Since January 2020 Elsevier has created a COVID-19 resource centre with free information in English and Mandarin on the novel coronavirus COVID-19. The COVID-19 resource centre is hosted on Elsevier Connect, the company's public news and information website. Elsevier hereby grants permission to make all its COVID-19-related research that is available on the COVID-19 resource centre - including this research content - immediately available in PubMed Central and other publicly funded repositories, such as the WHO COVID database with rights for unrestricted research re-use and analyses in any form or by any means with acknowledgement of the original source. These permissions are granted for free by Elsevier for as long as the COVID-19 resource centre remains active.
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            The mental health of medical workers in Wuhan, China dealing with the 2019 novel coronavirus

            In December, 2019, a novel coronavirus outbreak of pneumonia emerged in Wuhan, Hubei province, China, 1 and has subsequently garnered attention around the world. 2 In the fight against the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), medical workers in Wuhan have been facing enormous pressure, including a high risk of infection and inadequate protection from contamination, overwork, frustration, discrimination, isolation, patients with negative emotions, a lack of contact with their families, and exhaustion. The severe situation is causing mental health problems such as stress, anxiety, depressive symptoms, insomnia, denial, anger, and fear. These mental health problems not only affect the medical workers' attention, understanding, and decision making ability, which might hinder the fight against 2019-nCoV, but could also have a lasting effect on their overall wellbeing. Protecting the mental health of these medical workers is thus important for control of the epidemic and their own long-term health. The local government of Wuhan has implemented policies to address these mental health problems. Medical staff infected with 2019-nCoV while at work will be identified as having work-related injuries. 3 As of Jan 25, 2020, 1230 medical workers have been sent from other provinces to Wuhan to care for patients who are infected and those with suspected infection, strengthen logistics support, and help reduce the pressure on health-care personnel. 4 Most general hospitals in Wuhan have established a shift system to allow front-line medical workers to rest and to take turns in high-pressured roles. Online platforms with medical advice have been provided to share information on how to decrease the risk of transmission between the patients in medical settings, which aims to eventually reduce the pressure on medical workers. Psychological intervention teams have been set up by the RenMin Hospital of Wuhan University and Mental Health Center of Wuhan, which comprise four groups of health-care staff. Firstly, the psychosocial response team (composed of managers and press officers in the hospitals) coordinates the management team's work and publicity tasks. Secondly, the psychological intervention technical support team (composed of senior psychological intervention experts) is responsible for formulating psychological intervention materials and rules, and providing technical guidance and supervision. Thirdly, the psychological intervention medical team, who are mainly psychiatrists, participates in clinical psychological intervention for health-care workers and patients. Lastly, the psychological assistance hotline teams (composed of volunteers who have received psychological assistance training in dealing with the 2019-nCoV epidemic) provide telephone guidance to help deal with mental health problems. Hundreds of medical workers are receiving these interventions, with good response, and their provision is expanding to more people and hospitals. Understanding the mental health response after a public health emergency might help medical workers and communities prepare for a population's response to a disaster. 5 On Jan 27, 2020, the National Health Commission of China published a national guideline of psychological crisis intervention for 2019-nCoV. 4 This publication marks the first time that guidance to provide multifaceted psychological protection of the mental health of medical workers has been initiated in China. The experiences from this public health emergency should inform the efficiency and quality of future crisis intervention of the Chinese Government and authorities around the world.
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              Public responses to the novel 2019 coronavirus (2019‐nCoV) in Japan: Mental health consequences and target populations

              In December 2019, cases of life‐threatening pneumonia were reported in Wuhan, China. A novel coronavirus (2019‐nCoV) was identified as the source of infection. The number of reported cases has rapidly increased in Wuhan as well as other Chinese cities. The virus has also been identified in other parts of the world. On 30 January 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared this disease a ‘public health emergency of international concern.’ As of 3 February 2020, the Chinese government had reported 17 205 confirmed cases in Mainland China, and the WHO had reported 146 confirmed cases in 23 countries outside China.1 The virus has not been contained within Wuhan, and other major cities in China are likely to experience localized outbreaks. Foreign cities with close transport links to China could also become outbreak epicenters without careful public health interventions.2 In Japan, economic impacts and social disruptions have been reported. Several Japanese individuals who were on Japanese‐government‐chartered airplanes from Wuhan to Japan were reported as coronavirus‐positive. Also, human‐to‐human transmission was confirmed in Nara Prefecture on 28 January 2020. Since then, the public has shown anxiety‐related behaviors and there has been a significant shortage of masks and antiseptics in drug stores.3 The economic impact has been substantial. Stock prices have dropped in China and Japan, and other parts of the world are also showing some synchronous decline. As of 3 February 2020, no one had died directly from coronavirus infection in Japan. Tragically, however, a 37‐year‐old government worker who had been in charge of isolated returnees died from apparent suicide.4 This is not the first time that the Japanese people have experienced imperceptible‐agent emergencies – often dubbed as ‘CBRNE’ (i.e., chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and high‐yield explosives). Japan has endured two atomic bombings in 1945, the sarin gas attacks in 1995, the H1N1 influenza pandemic in 2009, and the Fukushima nuclear accident in 2011: all of which carried fear and risk associated with unseen agents. All of these events provoked social disruption.5, 6 Overwhelming and sensational news headlines and images added anxiety and fear to these situations and fostered rumors and hyped information as individuals filled in the absence of information with rumors. The affected people were subject to societal rejection, discrimination, and stigmatization. Fukushima survivors tend to attribute physical changes to the event (regardless of actual exposure) and have decreased perceived health, which is associated with decreased life expectancy.7, 8 Fear of the unknown raises anxiety levels in healthy individuals as well as those with preexisting mental health conditions. For example, studies of the 2001 anthrax letter attacks in the USA showed long‐term mental health adversities as well as lowered health perception of the infected employees and responders.9 Public fear manifests as discrimination, stigmatization, and scapegoating of specific populations, authorities, and scientists.10 As we write this letter, the coronavirus emergency is rapidly evolving. Nonetheless, we can more or less predict expected mental/physical health consequences and the most vulnerable populations. First, peoples' emotional responses will likely include extreme fear and uncertainty. Moreover, negative societal behaviors will be often driven by fear and distorted perceptions of risk. These experiences might evolve to include a broad range of public mental health concerns, including distress reactions (insomnia, anger, extreme fear of illness even in those not exposed), health risk behaviors (increased use of alcohol and tobacco, social isolation), mental health disorders (post‐traumatic stress disorder, anxiety disorders, depression, somatization), and lowered perceived health. It is essential for mental health professionals to provide necessary support to those exposed and to those who deliver care. Second, particular effort must be directed to vulnerable populations, which include: (i) the infected and ill patients, their families, and colleagues; (ii) Chinese individuals and communities; (iii) individuals with pre‐existing mental/physical conditions; and, last but not least, (iv) health‐care and aid workers, especially nurses and physicians working directly with ill or quarantined persons. If nothing else, the death of the government quarantine worker must remind us to recognize the extent of psychological stress associated with imperceptible agent emergencies and to give paramount weight to the integrity and rights of vulnerable populations. Disclosure statement The authors declare no conflicts of interest. Supporting information File S1 Online health information sources for the novel coronavirus (2019‐nCoV). Click here for additional data file.
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                Author and article information

                Journal
                Eur Psychiatry
                Eur. Psychiatry
                EPA
                European Psychiatry
                Cambridge University Press (Cambridge, UK )
                0924-9338
                1778-3585
                2020
                01 April 2020
                : 63
                : 1
                : e32
                Affiliations
                [ 1 ] Department of Psychiatry, University of Campania “L. Vanvitelli” , Naples, Italy
                [ 2 ] Editor, European Psychiatry
                [ 3 ] GHU Paris Psychiatrie et Neurosciences, CMME, Hôpital Sainte-Anne , 75014 Paris, France
                [ 4 ] Université de Paris, Institute of Psychiatry and Neuroscience of Paris (IPNP), INSERM U1266 , 75014 Paris, France
                Article
                S0924933820000358
                10.1192/j.eurpsy.2020.35
                7156565
                32234102
                23e5d80a-fae9-4299-8c2f-467820534252
                © The Author(s) 2020

                This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence ( http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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                Categories
                Editorial

                Clinical Psychology & Psychiatry
                Clinical Psychology & Psychiatry

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