Last February, the U.S. was ravaged by the coronavirus. A virus like no other, unknown to mankind. Our nation was met with an unimaginable disruption. It struck each individual like a ton of bricks. Lives were lost and some were spared. COVID-19 lockdowns were implemented in the hardest-hit cities. Many have willingly given up their freedom for the lockdowns. But are lockdowns worth it? Though we have spoken a lot about COVID-19 death rates, mandatory masking and social distancing, we rarely speak of those who suffer from depression and have fallen deeper into poverty.
Recently, the World Health Organization warned of the danger of lockdowns as they are “costly [and bring] social and economic life to a near stop.” Many experts, particularly in the United Kingdom, warn of the profound effects of lockdowns on both mental and physical health. Not only do they adversely affect health outcomes, but they also have a devastating impact on the nation’s economy. A survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control shows a significant number of younger adults, essential workers and minorities have contemplated suicide during lockdowns. Depression rates tripled amid COVID-19 lockdowns, according to a study cited by the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy.
As a nurse practitioner while dual-hatted as an Air Force nurse, I was deployed to the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak. I was assigned to New York City’s Lincoln Hospital, a place with the second most reported COVID-19 cases. The hardest battle was when I returned home. I was met with a dark shadow of despair surrounding me. Recurrent nightmares, thoughts of death and others dying were a nightly pattern. I felt lifeless and the strict lockdown just made it worse. I was plagued with futile treatment. Yearning to escape the relentless feeling of misery, I sought relief or peace at my place of worship. Unbeknown, churches were also closed due to the lockdown. Like many others, it became extremely difficult for me to deal with depression entirely on my own. Support systems are even more important when everything is falling apart in front of you during the COVID-19 pandemic. What is even more painful is losing a friend or a family from this virus, forcing some to live without that loved one by their side.
The COVID-19 lockdown only made matters worse as I struggled with depression. Depression weighs heavily in the heart of many individuals who struggle from this condition. These are the symptoms of depression and these are our stories. Others think that depression is plain boredom, fatigue or a normal unpleasant feeling, I would say they are incorrect. Boredom is more likely manifested from weariness or lack of mental stimulation. Depression is a mental-health condition. The lockdowns had a profound psychosocial impact on the general population. The incidence of suicide is seven times more prevalent in individuals with a preexisting mental illness. It increases the risk of suicide in those who suffer from anxiety disorder, stress and the fear of uncertainty. Depression causes loneliness, social isolation, helplessness and extreme sadness, which makes it harder to live life at the fullest. Locking down cities and states just makes these feelings increasingly worse.
Are lockdowns worth this toll on our mental health? Let us listen to the experts this time. Reflecting on the facts at hand, lockdowns devastate the economy, have a profound effect on our health and increase depression with a higher risk for suicide. We have to intellectually acknowledge the psychosocial effect of these COVID-19 lockdowns. While we call for the protection of the more vulnerable, it is possible to let others like me live their lives. While we have been focused on slowing the spread of the virus with mandatory facial masking, constant hand washing and 6 feet of physical distancing, we paid little attention to those suffering from depression. The former first lady, Melania Trump, said it best: “Mental health should be as much as a priority as our physical health.” The lockdowns have delayed treatment, raised concerns among those struggling with depression, and caused devastating and long-lasting effects for many. Let us stop this silent devastation.