PEOPLE are likely to suffer long-term effects on their mental health as a result of the coronavirus lockdown, psychologists have warned. UK Government psychologist Simon Wessely said the pandemic was an unprecedented challenge to humanity and pointed out that even during the Second World War restaurants, cinemas, workplaces and schools remained open.

He said the longer the lockdown continued the greater the risk of long-term effects, but warned that it was also wrong to give false reassurances about when it would end.

Wessely said it would only work long-term if people remained indoors for altruistic reasons rather than

feeling they were being coerced.

“We know that there’s only so much pain people can take, we know that the longer quarantine goes on the greater the risks of long-term effects, we also know it’s not a good idea to give a date when this is going to end – that’s kind of false reassurance as the truth is that we don’t know,” he said.

A renowned Belgian university has announced it is launching a study into the psychological effects of the lockdown, amid fears in the rise of the number of suicides.

“Governments are currently putting their energy on managing the epidemic. As a result, other risks are forgotten,” said health sociologist Vincent Lorant.

Researchers from the Louvain university are to analyse data collected in Belgium, France and the Netherlands. Academics from the Sheffield and Ulster universities are also investigating the mental health effects of the crisis.

In a Rapid Review article, published in the respected medical journal The Lancet, negative psychological effects of quarantine were listed as post-traumatic stress symptoms, confusion and anger.

Major stressors included lengthy quarantine durations, infection fears, frustration, boredom, inadequate supplies, inadequate information,

financial loss, and stigma, with some researchers suggesting long-lasting


Support for the public, patients and staff on the front line of the battle against the disease is particularly essential according to consultant clinical psychologist Dr Nicola Cogan, who is contributing towards the strategic planning for Covid-19 in NHS Lanarkshire.

She pointed out that in China, where the outbreak originated, mental health care for staff in one hospital included a place for rest where they could temporarily isolate

themselves from their family.

Food and daily living supplies were guaranteed and staff were helped to video record their work routines to share with their families and alleviate their concerns. Leisure activities and training on how to relax were arranged to help staff reduce stress. Psychological counsellors regularly visited the rest area to listen to difficulties or stories encountered by staff at work, and provide support


Even for people who are not NHS staff or have a family member who has the virus, these are “challenging” times, said Dr Cogan who is also a lecturer in psychological science and health at the University of


“Not knowing the duration and not having a sense of when this will end along with boredom, infection fears, anxiety about supplies, inadequate information because the information is changing all the time, the huge financial loss for many people and stigma associated with having contracted it are all major stressors and a risk to mental health,” she said.

“Tensions in family households will be high as we all have to adjust to a very different reality without all the normal routines, outlets, distractions and opportunities for alone time – it’s a ‘perfect storm’ in terms of tensions building into arguments and


“It’s vital that we recognise the huge pressure we are all under, be kind to each other and ourselves, have humour and lower our expectations for what we can do in terms of getting work done, home school the children etc, and what is actually achievable. We are all learning from one another and using technology such as FaceTime, WhatsApp and simply picking up the phone to chat is key at this time.”

On the plus side, said Dr Cogan, there was an opportunity for people to stop, reflect and really contemplate what they value in their lives.

“We can’t escape how grim the situation is but there is a silver lining in learning about how we connect with each other and how we use technology in a positive way,” she pointed out.

“This is a pandemic and it is going to fundamentally change the way we live our lives. We are globally all connected through adversity and we are all able to learn from one another and share our thoughts and experiences as we try to adapt and cope with

Covid-19 and its aftermath.”

DR Chris Hand, psychology lecturer and researcher at Glasgow Caledonian University, said the lockdown was essentially like an experiment that would never have been given ethical approval.

“We know that when people become completely isolated it can have a really negative effect and they start to show signs of trauma and stress and if they lose someone close to them then effects of isolation will be worse,” he said.

“This is a unique situation

especially as people are being asked to continue to work from home while balancing care commitments and the effects of social isolation.”

He added that it could be “months if not years” before the real impact on people was apparent.

Dr Hand pointed out that social media often gets a bad press but it could be crucial at this time.

“People now have incredible access to online and digital support services and even people without access to broadband have still got their phones and can maintain contact that way.”

Routine is important, as well as trying to keep active and being positive, he said.

“Try to eat healthily and not over-consume,” Dr Hand added. “While it’s really tempting to hit the bottle we know there are negative consequences of doing that too often – although it’s important to allow yourself some little pleasures as this is a really hard time.”

Those who still have to work should set proper working hours and stick to them, rather than working round the clock or procrastinating until there is a heavy load to catch up with.

Dr Stella Chan, reader in clinical psychology at the University of Edinburgh, pointed out that people did not normally spend so much time with family members in a relatively small space.

“On the positive side it means we get to spend time with them but that is a big change in terms of our social interaction as we are spending less time with other people in our social network,” she said. “The combination of social isolation and being stuck with each other can have a profound effect on mental health for better or worse.”

“We also know from research that loneliness is a well-known risk factor for mental health problems. It is not good for us.

“It affects us all but some people may be more vulnerable than others such as those with a personal or family history of mental health problems.”

She said it was important to stay connected to others.

“We cannot meet face to face so we have to be more creative and we might need to use digital technology more.

“We also must not underestimate gestures of kindness. A simple text message to friends, family or colleagues can do a great deal of good and people in a professional capacity need to be thinking about how to be responsive and still be accessible. Organisations need to be flexible and

responsive to needs of the


Dr Chan said the crisis did present an opportunity for everyone to take stock of the important aspects of life.

“We may not be as busy as normal so how do we make the best of it and emerge from this to be someone who is more reflective about the great things in life?”

As far as young children are concerned, she said people should be honest with them. “Children at a very young age know when things are different so there is no need to lie or hide anything – that’s the worst idea. It’s very important to explain what is happening in a way they understand.

She added that it would help if children still had some sort of structure to their day.

“It’s very important to make plans otherwise the days will slip by and they will become restless. Think about three things they can do each day. Give the ownership to them and ask them what they want to do so they lead on this. This is a good opportunity because in school they

normally don’t get a say.”

The University of Edinburgh is currently running Project Soothe, which is inviting people to send pictures that make them feel soothed. These will be posted on the website gallery and used for future research and

psychological therapies.