Although most of us could foresee a surge in the number of infections, hospitalizations and deaths after China dropped the three-year-long “zero COVID” control measures in mid-November, the subsequent severity of the situation was still beyond our imaginations.
Henan Province publicized their official data last week that the COVID infection rate as of Jan. 6 in the province was near 90% of the total population. While official figures have not yet been available for Shenzhen, the situation was not much better based on my personal observation.
In my extended family of about 50 people, only five have been uninfected. My 95-year-old father-in-law is still in hospital but is recovering. Not everyone is as lucky. One of my former colleagues died from a COVID-induced lung infection, though he had been in good health.
As many have breathed a sigh of relief after recovering, and rekindled hope for a new life after the three-year-long ordeal, others are still gripped by depression and fear.
Many a friend talked with me about their anxiety because of the prolonged pandemic, which has taken a toll on people’s mental as well as their physical health.
According to a report released by the World Health Organization in March 2022, people around the world were under increased mental stress during the pandemic. In 2020, the first year of the pandemic, the global rates of anxiety and depression increased by 25%, with young people most hard-hit. More women than men were affected, and people with underlying conditions were also more likely to suffer mentally.
Social isolation resulting from the pandemic has affected people’s work and livelihood, also keeping them away from loved ones and healthy social interactions.
Loneliness, fear of infection, pain and death for oneself and loved ones, and financial woes all led to anxiety and depression.
Surveys in various countries returned similar results. In the first year of the pandemic, 8.7% of Singaporeans surveyed met criteria for clinical depression, 9.4% for anxiety, and 9.3% for stress, according to a survey by the country’s Ministry of Health. The main sources of psychological stress were the risk of family members or friends contracting COVID-19, financial losses and unemployment.
These problems were aggravated in the second year of the pandemic, with 13% of Singaporeans experiencing symptoms of depression and anxiety in 2021.
According to a study of the University of Edinburgh, the number of people in the U.K. with anxiety issues nearly doubled during the pandemic and remained high throughout the pandemic.
Things started to improve when COVID restrictions were fully lifted in July 2021. According to a report by the Guardian on May 22, U.K.’s National Health Service revealed that children and adolescents were the worst affected, with more than 400,000 under 18 seeking mental health services in January last year, the first time the figure crossed the 400,000 threshold.
In China, pandemic-induced mental issues have also raised concerns. According to Peng Kaiping, a psychologist and dean of the School of Social Sciences, Tsinghua University, the pandemic has inflicted psychological trauma on the public, particularly the young.
In November 2021, his team entrusted Xinhua News Agency to survey 300,000 primary and middle school students on their psychological health conditions.
The survey found that the epidemic caused many children to lose motivation in learning and interest in the real world. Many became addicted to games and social media. Some even had suicidal tendencies.
The gravity of the issue justifies more attention, and calls for immediate effort from the governments, NGOs and individuals to tackle the psychological aftermaths of COVID.
(The author is an English tutor and freelance writer.)