Later that year, the media’s observations of, and predictions about, the virus’s impacts on mental health collided with the University of Oxford and the NIHR Oxford Biomedical Research Centre’s finding that nearly one in five people diagnosed as Covid-positive were impacted by ‘a psychiatric disorder such as anxiety, depression or insomnia’ within the following three months, while people with a pre-existing mental health diagnosis were ‘65 per cent more likely to be diagnosed with COVID-19 than those without, even accounting for known risk factors such as age, sex, race and underlying physical conditions’. ‘This finding was unexpected and needs investigation,’ Dr Max Taquet from NIHR told The Guardian. ‘In the meantime, having a psychiatric disorder should be added to the list of risk factors for COVID-19.’
By March 2021, PubMed – the free search engine focused on biomedical and life sciences – listed nearly 250 new papers exploring the psychological impacts of COVID-19: the bar chart tracking the explosion in this work shot up from its horizontal X-axis like a skyscraper. This research addressed the pandemic through a wide range of prisms, including loneliness, suicide prevention, air pollution and geriatric mental health, grief, schizophrenia, human–animal interactions and gambling. The first paper exploring ‘Chronic Zoom Syndrome’ appeared in Australasian Psychiatry on 5 October 2020.
All of which was overlaid on the world’s complex and extant map of mental illnesses and wellbeing like so many new clusters of fronts, troughs and weather systems on an already densely packed synoptic chart. The pandemic was, simultaneously, magnifying glass, incubator and accelerator for rapid change in the world’s collective mind.
It’s an understatement to say that the phrases ‘mental health’ and ‘mental illness’ operate as a kind of manageable shorthand for a vast and various range of human experience. The WHO constitution defines mental health as ‘more than just the absence of mental disorders or disabilities’, a quality ‘fundamental to our collective and individual ability as humans to think, emote, interact with each other, earn a living and enjoy life’ and ‘an integral and essential component of health’. The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition – or DSM-5 – lists nineteen categories of disorders, dysphoria and dysfunctions in its categories of diagnostic criteria and codes, including neurodevelopmental and neurocognitive disorders, depressive disorders, gender dysphoria, trauma- and stressor-related disorders, schizophrenia spectrum and various psychotic disorders.
Please read the remainder of ‘New vibrations‘ at Griffith Review.