Mental Health Impact in the Midst of the Coronavirus

The majority of the known world is currently experiencing the various impacts of the coronavirus pandemic. For many people, this is the first time a global pandemic has been experienced in their lifetime. While the world has endured outbreaks of viruses such as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2003 and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) in 2012, there has not been anything to the level of what is seen with the coronavirus. A large burden of the COVID-19 pandemic outcomes can be felt by medical professionals and other frontline professionals. The health burden of the virus in the form of respiratory and cardiovascular complications have overshadowed another prevailing issue which is the mental health impact it has had on the United States and other nations across the world.1

The presence and continuing spread of the coronavirus affects all people but to varying degrees and those communities that are marginalized or that are underresourced or underserved are feeling the full force of the current crisis.2 It can be observed that the groups of medical professionals and underrepresented communities may be enduring the psychological burden of the virus. The studies that examined past outbreaks observed a toll being placed on healthcare workers. For instance, during the SARS epidemic of 2003, 89% of 270 healthcare professionals in Hong Kong reported negative psychological outcomes such as exhaustion and fear related to social contact.3 Even after the crisis of this virus faded, it was reported that health care workers in Toronto, which also experienced the impact of the SARS epidemic, had elevated levels of burnout and psychological distress.3

When the coronavirus first presented in Wuhan, China, it was identified that many health care workers had prevailing mental health issues that included depression, insomnia, stress, or anxiety.4 The associated burden for medical professionals can come from not having enough protective gear, increased risk of infection, and long work hours, which can negatively impact their degree of resiliency and ultimately lead to burnout.5 In the long run, some healthcare workers can make the decision to depart from the profession, become reluctant to come to work each day, develop post-traumatic stress disorder, or witness the exacerbation of a pre-existing mental health disorder.5

For communities that can be underresourced or underserved, the stay at home orders that have been instituted by much of the US due to the coronavirus pandemic has placed mental health in the forefront as an important topic of conversation.6 Individuals that find themselves in their homes for the majority of the day need to make a conscious effort to reduce their level of boredom by filling their time and working to engage the mind. The increase in the use of virtual platforms for communication during the pandemic can also serve as an outlet for those who may experience loneliness or isolation.6 However, while these recommendations can provide some benefit, it is important for an individual to seek out sound medical advice whenever there is the presence of any mental health symptoms.

As the world continues to face the growing issue of the coronavirus, it is important for the mental health status of all individuals who find themselves at the frontline of this pandemic to be assessed on an ongoing basis. The mental health of all individuals is important and may require evaluation.


  1. van der Hoek L, Ihorst G, Sure K, et al. Burden of disease due to human coronavirus NL63 infections and periodicity of infection. J Clin Virol. 2010;48(2):104–108. doi:10.1016/j.jcv.2010.02.023
  2. Weinter S. The new coronavirus affects us all. But some groups may suffer more. Association of American Medical Colleges. 2020. Retrieved from Accessed April 26, 2020.
  3. Ortega RP. Health care workers seek to flatten COVID-19s second curve-their rising mental anguish. American Association for the Advancement of Science. 2020. Retrieved from Accessed April, 26, 2020.
  4. Lai J, Ma S, Wang Y, et al. Factors associated with mental health outcomes among health care workers exposed to coronavirus disease 2019. JAMA Netw Open.2020;3(3):e203976. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.3976.
  5. Law T. ‘We Carry That Burden.’ Medical Workers Fighting COVID-19 Are Facing a Mental Health Crisis. Time. 2020. Retrieved from Accessed April 26, 2020.
  6. Hou CY. The psychological effects of coronavirus quarantine and what you can do about it. Changing American.The Hill. Retrieved from Accessed April 26, 2020.

Abimbola Farinde, PhD, PharmD
Professor, Columbia Southern University, College of Business
Orange Beach, AL

Published on 5/7/2020