Battle Disease, DepressionUsing Experiences of Pandemics Past
For many people, the home is a place of refuge. A place to regroup, relax, and recharge. A haven within which to escape the grind of working life, and wind down with loved ones.
During quarantine, however, the home is viewed a bit differently. Once known as the proverbial castle, for people taking contagion concerns seriously, it becomes a fortress. A sanitary, sterile, structure with strict rules. Family members, worried about having become infected the last time they were out and about, practice social distancing even inside the home, space permitting.
Packages delivered to the front door are requested to be left outside, and after a safe amount of time, are quickly dragged inside by a designated, gloved, masked family member, and thoroughly sanitized before opening.
Nonetheless, as the days pass, homebound occupants fall into a new routine. Teleworkers transform family room areas into remote offices, kids organize their bedrooms into makeshift remote classrooms. And live goes on, as we are reminded that this too, shall pass.
But even when a quarantine period is over, does the experience leave a psychological toll? Research has some answers.
The Home Court Disadvantage
Laura Hawryluck et al. studied the experience of quarantine in connection to the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak, which they note was ultimately contained successfully through worldwide quarantine measures. Acknowledging the effectiveness of quarantine procedures for preventing the spread of disease, they examined its psychological effect on people who were confined.
They investigated the psychological impact of quarantine on a sample of 129 people in Toronto, Canada. Participants, who responded to an internet survey, reported a high incidence of psychological distress. Specifically, the researchers discovered reports of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms and depression in 28.9% and 31.2% of respondents, respectively.
They also noted that longer periods of time in quarantine were linked with a higher incidence of PTSD symptoms. People who had either direct exposure or acquaintance with someone who had a SARS diagnosis were also linked with PTSD and depressive symptoms.
Hawryluck et al. (ibid.) describe PTSD as "an anxiety disorder characterized by avoiding stimuli associated with a traumatic event, reexperiencing the trauma, and hyperarousal, such as increased vigilance." They note that higher symptoms of PTSD were directly proportional to increased amounts of time spent in quarantine, perhaps suggesting that the experience of quarantine itself might be experienced as personalized trauma.
Money Matters: Financial Distress Brings Psychological Impacts
Hawryluck et al. (supra) noted that symptoms of both depression and PTSD increased as household incomes fell. But it was difficult to arrive at a definitive result in this area due to the methodology used. Because the survey was Internet based, the authors note that respondents might have been more likely to be more affluent and educated, with access to computers. If true, they acknowledge that study results might be an underestimation of the psychological distress caused by quarantine.
They also note that most of the participants in their study did not report financial hardship, which was likely explained by the fact that over half of the respondents reported an annual household income of over $75,000 CAD.
Antidote for Anxiety? Information
Notably, Hawryluck et al. (supra) reported that approximately half of respondents expressed feeling like they had not received enough information about methods of controlling home infection. And of those who at least had some information, apparently not everyone was following the recommendations.
The authors note that of particular interest, strict adherence to measures of infection control, including wearing masks more often than recommended, was linked with higher levels of distress.
Regarding the reason for this finding, they note that without interviewing the respondents, it is impossible to determine whether people experiencing more baseline levels of distress were more likely to strictly follow methods of infection control, or whether following recommended strategies created higher levels of distress.
The Power of Information
There appear to be several take-aways from this research, which can potentially ease the discomfort of this disruption in routine. First, regarding the value of accurate information, knowledge is power, which can decrease anxiety when families have a working knowledge of precautionary measure that are effective and appropriate.
In addition, investing in good technology is money well spent when it can allow employees to work from home. Not only is this true for people who are self-employed, but also because not all employers can provide employees with the equipment necessary to work remotely.
The underlying theme is that when it comes to acquiring information, proactivity does not breed paranoia, but preparedness. Authoritative, sound advice from expert sources will allow families to shelter in place, while remaining sane, and financially sound.
This article was originally published in Psychology Today.
Wendy L. Patrick is a career prosecutor, named the Ronald M. George Public Lawyer of the Year, and recognized by her peers as one of the Top Ten criminal attorneys in San Diego by the San Diego Daily Transcript. She has completed over 150 trials ranging from human trafficking, to domestic violence, to first-degree murder. She is President of the Association of Threat Assessment Professionals San Diego Chapter and an ATAP Certified Threat Manager. Dr. Patrick is a frequent media commentator with over 4,000 appearances including CNN, Fox News Channel, Newsmax, and many others. She is author of "Red Flags" (St. Martin´s Press), and co-author of the revised version of the New York Times bestseller "Reading People" (Random House). On a personal note, Dr. Patrick holds a purple belt in Shorin-Ryu karate, is a concert violinist with the La Jolla Symphony, and plays the electric violin with a rock band. To read more of her reports — Click Here Now.
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