Mental health problems will be one of the most enduring effects of the pandemic, psychologists warn

Experts say many people have suffered feelings of depression, anxiety or stress due to the coronavirus outbreak

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES. 23 SEPTEMBER 2020. Street art project in place at Al Serkal Avenue to promote mental wellness during the Covid-19 pandemic. (Photo: Antonie Robertson/The National) Journalist: Nick Webster. Section: National.

Even those who have not been directly affected by the virus run the risk of lasting mental health problems, experts have warned.

A significant minority of sufferers go on to become ‘long haulers’ who experience enduring physical effects.

Psychologists said many, if not most, people have suffered feelings of depression, anxiety or stress due to the pandemic, and they could face long-term mental health problems as a result.

I have patients at the age of 70 experiencing anxiety disorders for the first time in their life.

Experts have warned healthcare staff are at risk of suffering from anxiety, burnout and post traumatic stress disorder.

The condition has also been seen in patients who have contracted the virus.

But experts say even those who have evaded the virus so far have suffered, with feelings of loneliness and worries over job losses, finances and fear of getting Covid-19 being common.

“Mental health problems are going to be one of the major effects of the pandemic,” said Dr Sarah Rasmi, licensed psychologist and founder of Thrive Wellbeing Centre.

“I think it’s difficult to say it will be the biggest effect. But it’s going to be very significant.”

A World Health Organisation study shows one in four people will suffer from a mental health challenge during their lifetime.

According to their estimates, around 450 million people currently suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.

“Given all of the things that come along with the Covid-19 pandemic and some of the preliminary research that we are seeing already suggests the mental health implications are going to be around for a while,” said Dr Rasmi.

“It is part of the reason that the theme for this year’s Mental Health Day, which is on October 10, is investment in mental health care.”

She said people are “struggling across the board,” which is evident in her practice.

Other clinics have also experienced an influx of patients.

Dr Laila Mahmoud, a psychiatrist at Medcare Hospitals & Medical Centres, said she is seeing more patients from all groups, “starting from young children and moving up to seniors”.

Common conditions include panic disorders, generalised anxiety disorder, acute traumatic disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorders.

She said the majority of her patients are adolescents who have yet to develop resilience.

“We have more seniors approaching us because they are expected to be under total lockdown and for a longer period,” said Dr Mahmoud.

“I have patients at the age of 70 experiencing anxiety disorders for the first time in their life.”

However, doctors said the pandemic has resulted in one positive, which is the increasing acceptance and normalisation of discussion of mental health issues, which have typically been a taboo.

“Everybody has experienced something over the course of this pandemic and a lot of people who had mental health conditions before, especially around anxiety, have said to us, finally, our friends and family really get what we are going through,” said Dr Rasmi.

“And it’s not that we would wish it on them but we are all in the same boat together.”