Claudio Gonzalez, a Chilean who lives alone in Punta Arenas, in the extreme south of Chile, is anxious about his future. He misses human contact and spending time with his loved ones. When you feel desperate, you take medicine for depression, even though you don't have a prescription. As COVID-19 continues to spread, mental health experts have been concerned about its impact on people's mental health. Fake news, misinformation, and conspiracy theories increase anxiety, they report.
Already in May, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals group emphasized that “Although the COVID-19 crisis is, in the first instance, a physical health crisis, it also has a great mental health crisis in its gut, if no action is taken.”
In Chile, Daniela Salinas, a psychologist at the Universidad Mayor in Santiago, studied the impact of the pandemic on the mental health of Chileans. It found that 66% of respondents had anxious reactions during confinement and 40% showed depressive symptoms. The study also found that there has been an increase in drug, alcohol and tobacco use, with increases of up to 14% in the case of cigarettes.
On the other hand, Chilean psychiatrist Juan Carlos Almonte told Global Voices that he observed that university students have dramatically changed their sleep patterns: now they sleep from 5:00 or 6:00 in the morning until noon, which prevents them from interacting with their relatives and receive support from the family for their anxieties.
Almonte does not recommend self-medication of psychotropic medication, which is prescribed for long periods of treatment. He also believes that public mental health campaigns should focus on non-pharmacological actions.
Anxiety and depression are fueled by news related to COVID-19, but they can also be made worse by misinformation or excessive news consumption, according to experts.
Colombian Salome Castro noticed the anxious behavior of her 80-year-old father after being exposed to news on television and radio. Also, in his opinion, social media is used as a channel for emotional catharsis and expression during the crisis. So pay attention to the content you review. Claudio Gonzalez, the Chilean from Punta Arenas, also prefers to follow emergency doctors on Facebook, who he knows they publish reliable and updated information. His television broke down on March 19, which gave him some relief.
Colombian psychiatrist Edwin Herazo told Global Voices that wrong information increases the risk of being afraid: he suggested approaching the news critically and not emotionally.
Also psychiatrist Fernando Valadez explains that anxiety causes addition to information, and that this addition causes anxiety. “It is a bad habit that people must break, so they must be aware of how much time they spend online in having healthy routines like exercise and rest,” he told Global Voices. For his part, Adalberto Campo, a Colombian psychiatrist, added that health authorities must follow up on false news on social media.
A guide produced by the University of Chile insists that media coverage is essential for mental health. Clear and reliable content can help people self-regulate their behavior. Also, people should read the advice of the WHO, and have minimal exposure to the news, which makes them anxious and uneasy.
COVID-19 impacted Chile and Colombia in terms of loss of life – the death toll is 11,442 and 20,348 respectively, according to official figures – and also economically, with job insecurity and lack of access to food.
A study by the private organization Profamilia published in May showed that anger, sadness, nervousness and anxiety due to the economic recession prevail among Colombians, and 56% fear falling into depression. The College of Psychologists of Colombia demanded a national strategy from the Government to respond to stress, fear and anxiety caused by the pandemic, as suggested by the WHO.
Therefore, according to psychiatrists, a healthy mindset is critical to dealing with the pandemic. At the beginning of the confinement period, Colombian engineer Rosi Gaviria listened to politicians but switched to scientists, doctors and WHO data to avoid conspiracy theories, fake news and denial, she told Global Voices.
On the other hand, Colombian lawyer Roberto Uribe has the news media known and respected doctors as the main sources, and ignores opinions that lack scientific bases, doctors who offer miracle cures and “journalists who present old information as if it were updated,” he told Global Voices.