September 19, 2020 08:23
The coronavirus epidemic is taking its toll on the mental health of many people after about eight months of uncertainty and no vaccine in sight.
For those who still have a job, depression and anxiety are turning into anger amid ongoing restrictions on their movement and endless hectoring from the authorities and the media. For those who have lost their job to the epidemic, the situation is even grimmer.
"The coronavirus crisis is a major disaster not only from an epidemiological standpoint but also from a mental health standpoint," said Kim Sang-wook at the Korean Association of Neuro Psychiatric Practitioners.
A total of 595,724 people sought psychiatric treatment during the first half of this year, up 5.8 percent on-year. The National Center for Disaster Trauma counseled 374,221 people for depression from February to June, already surpassing the total during all of 2019.
Psychological stresses lead to depression and lethargy, which in turn can trigger sleeping disorders and loss of appetite. People experience slowed speech and motor functions, nervousness, listlessness, or irrational guilt. "Senior citizens are especially vulnerable to depression and anxiety if they do not get to exercise or spend time outdoors," Kim said.
Young jobseekers are also feeling increasingly depressed due to diminished chances of finding work as the epidemic devastates the economy. According to the Health Insurance Review and Assessment Service, 170,771 people in their 20s and 30s sought help for depression in the first half of this year, up 21.8 percent on-year.
Others are falling victim to fits of rage as feelings of helplessness continue to be suppressed. "Key examples of this are incidents of assault and fits of rage we have seen on the news by some people who were told to wear face masks in public," Kim pointed out.
A key cause are the seemingly endless restrictions placed on people's daily lives. Kim Hyung-soo at Myongji Hospital said, "Fear, anxiety and depression dominated our society during the early phase of the epidemic, but recently feelings of rage are growing as people wonder how much longer they have to keep living like this."
A survey by the Seoul National University Graduate School of Public Health showed anxiety levels at 62.7 percent and anger at 11.5 percent in early August, before the second lockdown in the capital region. Then anxiety levels fell to 47.5 percent, but anger levels rose to 25.3 percent.
The most effective way of avoiding the worst symptoms is to increase physical activity, said Kim Jong-woo at Kyunghee University Hospital at Gangdong. Exercise thins the density of stress hormones in the blood, so depression and anger subside.
Epidemiologists recommend going outside to run or walk. Kim at the KANPP also advises people to avoid gorging themselves on news about the epidemic, but with the proviso of maintaining sensible social distancing.
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