Finding ways to balance the physical risks and emotional distress caused by COVID-19 is important for both health care personnel and patients. The mental health needs of entire communities are on the rise. The best practices that we are promoting to keep people safe from the virus are completely contrary to the practices we rely on to stay mentally well and emotionally resilient. “Social distancing,” the pillar of these efforts, has led to fear and isolation for many people. The reality is that COVID-19 is not a “social” disease at all, since it is transmitted by respiratory droplets among individuals who may have never had any social interaction. The inadvertent side effect of trying to keep physically safe through social distancing has in fact created emotional distress and removed us from the usual comforts of life and means of support. These necessary measures are our best defense in fighting infectious diseases, but many patients are now reporting an increase in emotional distress as a result.
Health care providers around the world are now tasked with providing exams and treatments to patients who are fearful of clinics and hospitals. In addition, the added stress of dealing with this pandemic is interfering with preventative visits, and the costs of care for patients dealing with comorbid conditions will likely increase even more. The challenge for our health systems and clinicians will be to provide necessary care while addressing the added complexity of the impact to the mental health of patients and providers alike.