COVID-19 and your mental health – no room for taboos

More and more people are suffering from mental health issues as an effect of increased stress. These numbers are quickly climbing during the COVID-19 pandemic. For this reason we must take care of our mental health – and ensure that we support those most at-risk like the chronically ill.

Mental health issues are no longer as rare as they once were. They can affect anyone. Before the pandemic, one billion people worldwide suffered from some kind of mental illness.1 In Germany, it was one in four adults.2 During crises such as the one we are living through today, the number of those affected increases significantly. Early scientific findings indicate that restrictions on everyday life such limitations on going out, social distancing and self-quarantine mandates cause mental stress for many people and can have serious psychological consequences.3

 

Studies on the impact of the pandemic on mental health show that around 60 percent of Germans feel under greater mental stress.4 In addition, health insurance companies reported record numbers of people calling off sick for depression in the first half of 2020.5

 

 

Too much stress is bad for body and mind

 

Crises like COVID-19 pose enormous challenges for us – not only socioeconomically, but for the mental health of each and every one of us. “Human beings like to have some amount of certainty in their planning. This pandemic is preventing us from seeing very far ahead, and many people find that disconcerting. In the long term, this can trigger fears that become pathological in nature. As a result, people try to adapt to the new challenges, but don’t always succeed, which can then have a negative effect on their mental health,” says Thorsten Uhle, global expert for occupational and organizational psychology at Bayer. 

General practitioner Karin Leikert from Erftstadt near Cologne confirms this: “I am currently seeing a lot of patients who are scared of losing their jobs. People with children also often feel overwhelmed due to the coronavirus. At least ten out of 80 patients each day can’t see a way forward. I am increasingly diagnosing these people with anything from mild to clinical depression.” 

 

There are many reasons for this. Chronic, long-lasting stress without sufficient relaxation puts excessive strain on the body. Constantly running in high gear, produces adrenaline and cortisol. This can lead to sleeping problems and a weakening of the immune system, not to mention depression. A healthy immune system is the body’s most important internal defense against the coronavirus.  

 

 

Chronically ill require special protection

 

Older people and those who suffer from chronic illnesses are particularly at risk, as their immune systems are no longer as robust as those of younger, healthier people. A COVID infection could therefore have serious health consequences for them. Patients suffering from cancer or cardiovascular diseases, for example, are at higher risk of severe consequences if they catch COVID-19, and their fear of infection is also particularly high. As a result, many of them have avoided medical practices and hospitals or interrupted their treatment at the start of the pandemic – risking more damage to their health.

 

It is therefore particularly important to be considerate and check on how they are doing. “For the chronically ill, it can often be helpful to make use of both medical and psychosocial support,” says Uhle, who has been working with Bayer’s doctors to help employees deal with the consequences of the pandemic better. 

 

Thorsten Uhle works at Bayer as a global expert in industrial and organizational psychology. Together with Bayer doctors, he is helping employees to better deal with the consequences of the pandemic.

In psychotherapy, the chronically ill learn how to restructure their daily lives and listen to their bodies when their health starts going off track.   Uhle adds that Internet forums and self-help groups can provide additional support, and healthy eating and getting enough exercise and sleep are also extremely important.

 

 

“Mental health mustn’t be a taboo”

 

Despite all the options available, only a tiny number of people actually seek professional help. Why is this? Mental illnesses are still a taboo for many people. Only one person in five affected in Germany goes to a physician about it.6 Although treatments for depression can have a similar level of success to those for high blood pressure, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that around half of all cases go untreated. The WHO recommends anyone who feels depressed or has symptoms of clinical depression should seek medical assistance. It is also important that doctors be on the lookout for symptoms in their patients as well.7

 

Calls such as this, together with a broader societal conversation about mental health, can lead to more people seeking the professional help they need in the future. Bayer is helping drive this social discourse through its investments in psychological health services and informational campaigns, including those devoted to depression.  

 

“Mental health mustn’t be a taboo. At Bayer, we take a holistic view of health and continue to develop appropriate options for improving mental health. In addition, Bayer will use digital options even more in the future than it does now,” says Uhle. For example, the company recently announced collaborations with eleven start-ups who are developing digital applications in medicine. These include a smartphone app that combines games and medical treatments to relieve stress, anxiety and depression.8 Bayer also offers natural products that can help restore a sense of inner balance and enjoyment of life in cases of mild or moderate depression.

 

Thorsten advocates that in times of COVID-19 we talk openly about mental health and protect risk groups.

 

 

Scientists, doctors and psychologists are continuing to work on informative initiatives and innovative therapies to keep our mental health in balance, even as the pandemic rages. However, we all have a part to play. “If each one of us takes care of ourselves and above all also looks out for others, then together we will be able to cope with this pandemic successfully,” Uhle says.