Show an ad over header. AMP

The long-term pain of the mental health pandemic

A less visible but still massive trauma caused by the coronavirus is becoming clear: our mental health is suffering with potentially long-lasting consequences.

Why it matters: Mental health disorders that range from schizophrenia to depression and anxiety exert a severe cost on personal health and the economy. Addressing that challenge may require out-of-the-box solutions.

What's happening: During the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S., there were significant increases in acute stress and depressive symptoms, according to a study published earlier this week in Science Advances.

  • Higher levels of exposure to COVID-19-related media worsened symptoms as well, especially if that media contained conflicting information about the coronavirus — which, of course, has largely been the case since the start of the pandemic.

Context: A deep body of scientific research shows that experiencing collective traumas like a mass shooting or a natural disaster can lead to lasting mental health damage. But what sets the pandemic apart is its global scope and its sheer length.

  • And the pandemic is unfolding next to ongoing protests against racial violence and deepening uncertainty about the outcome of the 2020 election.

The trauma of getting sick, seeing loved ones get sick, or losing a job will adversely affect the mental health of even the most redoubtable individual. But the unique nature of the pandemic stresses us in other ways.

  • Humans may exist in the present, but unlike even our closest primate cousins we largely live in the future, anticipating and planning for possibilities, as Arthur C. Brooks argues in a piece for The Atlantic.
  • "Because of the pandemic," he writes, "the future feels difficult and uncertain, and few of us have much control over it. The result is a lot of unhappy monkeys."

More than almost any other condition, mental health disorders have remained stubbornly resistant to the interventions of modern medicine and, according to one estimate, are set to cost the global economy $16 trillion by 2030.

  • For that to change, we need to better understand what a "normal" mental state really is, argues Tara Thiagarajan, a neuroscientist and the founder of Sapien Labs.
  • Thiagarajan is spearheading the Mental Health Million Project, an effort to map mental health by building a global, consistent database that attempts to draw clearer lines around the blurry picture of mental illness.
  • "The major issue we face in mental health is measurement, so we can identify what aspect of the brain we really need to focus on," she says. "If we can understand what the psychology looks like, we can alter that with experimental therapies like magnetic stimulation."

What's next: That's an approach brain-interface startups like Elon Musk's Neuralink and NeuroOne are beginning to explore.

  • Brain stimulation interventions are already being used for motor disorders like Parkinson's and epilepsy.
  • "You'll be hearing more and more about using stimulation to treat psychological disorders," says Dave Rosa, the president and CEO of NeuroOne. "If we can understand the regions of the brain that have these emotions, can we control them?"

The catch: We're still far from fully understanding the brain as well as we do other organs like the heart, and if brain interfaces are ever going to be used for more common conditions like depression, they need to be much less invasive and much more durable.

The bottom line: Given the open-ended trauma of the pandemic and the general chaos of 2020, feeling depressed is more logical than pathological. But we desperately need better solutions to the lasting pandemic that is mental illness, even after COVID-19 is finally vanquished.

Boris Johnson announces month-long COVID-19 lockdown in U.K.

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Saturday outlined his plan for the country's second coronavirus lockdown as the nation topped the 1 million case mark, per Johns Hopkins University data.

Details: Starting Thursday, people in England must stay at home, and bars and restaurants will close except for takeout. All non-essential retail will also be shuttered. Inter-mingling between households and outbound international travel or out-of-home boarding will be prohibited. The new measures will last through at least December 2.

Keep reading... Show less

Trump's legacy is shaped by his narrow interests

President Trump's policy legacy is as much defined by what he's ignored as by what he's involved himself in.

The big picture: Over the past four years, Trump has interested himself in only a slim slice of the government he leads. Outside of trade, immigration, a personal war against the "Deep State" and the hot foreign policy issue of the moment, Trump has left many of his Cabinet secretaries to work without interruption, let alone direction.

Keep reading... Show less

Ipsos poll: COVID trick-or-treat

Data: Axios/Ipsos poll; Note ±3.3% margin of error for the total sample size; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

About half of Americans are worried that trick-or-treating will spread coronavirus in their communities, according to this week's installment of the Axios/Ipsos Coronavirus Index.

Why it matters: This may seem like more evidence that the pandemic is curbing our nation's cherished pastimes. But a closer look reveals something more nuanced about Americans' increased acceptance for risk around activities in which they want to participate.

Keep reading... Show less

Dunkin' Brands agrees to $11B Inspire Brands sale

Dunkin' Brands, operator of both Dunkin' Donuts and Baskin-Robbins, agreed on Friday to be taken private for nearly $11.3 billion, including debt, by Inspire Brands, a quick-serve restaurant platform sponsored by Roark Capital.

Why it matters: Buying Dunkin’ will more than double Inspire’s footprint, making it one of the biggest restaurant deals in the past 10 years. This could ultimately set up an IPO for Inspire, which already owns Arby's, Jimmy John's and Buffalo Wild Wings.

Keep reading... Show less

Federal judge halts Trump administration limit on TikTok

A federal judge on Friday issued an injunction preventing the Trump administration from imposing limits on the distribution of TikTok, Bloomberg reports. The injunction request came as part of a suit brought by creators who make a living on the video service.

Why it matters: The administration has been seeking to force a sale of, or block, the Chinese-owned service. It also moved to ban the service from operating in the U.S. as of Nov. 12, a move which was put on hold by Friday's injunction.

Keep reading... Show less

Podcast: How hospitals are prepping for the new COVID-19 surge

Coronavirus cases and hospitalizations are surging, particularly in areas that had been largely spared in the spring. One big question now is if hospitals are better prepared for this new wave, including if they'll be able to continue providing elective services.

Axios Re:Cap digs into what hospitals have, and what they still need, with Lloyd Dean, CEO of CommonSpirit Health, one of America's largest operators of hospitals and health clinics.

Belgium imposes lockdown, citing "health emergency" due to influx of COVID-19 cases

Belgium is enforcing a strict lockdown starting Sunday amid rising coronavirus infections, hospital admissions and a surge of deaths, Prime Minister Alexander De Croo announced on Friday.

Why it matters: De Croo said the government saw no choice but to lock down "to ensure that our health care system does not collapse." Scientists and health officials said deaths have doubled every six days, per the Guardian.

Keep reading... Show less

First look: Reid Hoffman launches $1M ad urging election patience

Billionaire and LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, one of Democrats' biggest donors, tells Axios he's launching a $1 milliondigital ad campaign in battleground states urging voters to be patient with election results and prepare for no winner to be known on Nov. 3, no matter what "some people" may prematurely declare via Twitter.

Driving the news: The three-minute ad, titled "We Count! A Patriotic Musical Extravaganza," features the voice of "The Big Bang Theory's" Jim Parsons and Broadway star Barrett Doss. The spot will appear on Facebook targeting voters in the swing states of Arizona, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Keep reading... Show less



Get Goodhumans in your inbox

Most Read

More Stories