Contextualizing the psychological impact of Coronavirus epidemic

Published on March 6, 2020

The 2019-20 Coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, China, is the latest epidemic that has killed more than 3,200 people worldwide and infected over 95,000 people globally so far in every continent except Antarctica.

The name coronavirus comes from the Latin word corona, meaning crown or halo. According to the World Health Organisation, coronaviruses are a family of viruses that cause illnesses ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS).

The novel coronavirus, identified by Chinese authorities on January 7 and since named COVID-19, is a new strain that had not been previously identified in humans. Common signs of infection include fever, cough, shortness of breath, and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure, and even death. 

The bad news for you is that, if you live in a densely populated area, you are very likely to contract the coronavirus – if not this year, next year, or the year after as it undergoes its seasonal global migration pattern. The good news however, is that you will almost certainly not die from it, and it may not even register that you are slightly more sluggish than usual for a week or two. You can prepare to fight the yearly Corona invasions to come by resisting your own neuroticism, your own prejudice, and your own irrationality.

The fact that coronavirus is a traumatic illness both in terms of symptom severity and mortality rates means the ones affected are likely to experience psychological effects as well. Unfortunately, psychosocial care has been insufficient to date due to a lack of resources, overburdened health systems and a lack of knowledge about supporting psychosocial needs.

It is essential that the response to the outbreak considers both acute and long-term psychosocial needs of individuals and communities.

To begin with, integrating local knowledge and understanding of illness with biomedical approaches would help achieve culturally relevant, acceptable and appropriate psychosocial interventions. This includes strategies like communication, education, community engagement, peer support, resource mobilization and prevention activities (e.g. risk assessment, psychosocial support) as well as mental health care. Interventions and policy initiatives should embrace survivor engagement to solicit and learn from their experiences, to influence policy and practice, including efforts to address physical, psychological, and social care needs (e.g. stigma and re-integration).

Moreover, discourse and implementation of strategies addressing needs resulting from the epidemic should not further marginalize or stigmatize affected communities. Such marginalization is compounded by a focus on factors exacerbating the epidemic and weaknesses in these communities, rather than their strengths (e.g. social resources or resilience), which not only disempowers them but also inhibits success by failing to integrate existing resources.

Due to a sustained lack of investment in health systems, developing countries especially are vulnerable to both outbreaks and their psychosocial repercussions, which compound health needs. In the case of Coronavirus, there is a failure to respond, both by the global and local communities, to recognize risks of an outbreak that were clearly identified during previous epidemics. The severity of this epidemic and its long-lasting repercussions should spur investment in and development of health systems, including for mental and physical health. We must join hands together in creating awareness about the contagious disease and how we can take small precautionary steps for our own betterment.


Category(s):Anxiety, Fear, Health / Illness / Medical Issues, Other

Written by:

Ahmer Zuberi

The writer is a Psychologist and determined to break the stigma around mental health. He provides counselling to overcome emotional turmoil and dysfunctional thoughts; allowing individuals to lead more meaningful and fulfilling lives.


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