Psychological Effects of Quarantine
BY NICOLE YU '25
Normally, I enjoy spending time with family, but for some reason, they were a nuisance during quarantine at the pandemic’s beginning. A plethora of reasons could have contributed to my irritation: ever-increasing Google Classroom assignments, an endless stream of pandemic articles, or the uncertainty of the pandemic. I wasn’t alone in feeling this way. Lockdown left many bored, frustrated, and irritable. New stressors--online school, working from home, and a lack of financial security--affected households across the globe. For many, mental healthcare is inaccessible, and this is unlikely to improve for many years. As a result, quarantine’s mental health impact will have a long-lasting impact.
By cutting off social connections, online school has negatively affected some students' mental health. Many factors caused stress during quarantine, particularly the sudden transition to virtual learning for students. A school district in Austin, Texas reported a 70% increase in failing grades after switching to virtual learning. Pre-pandemic, students were already stressed by grades, and virtual learning increased those pressures significantly. Teachers taught virtually through videos and slideshows, and the number of independent assignments increased; for many, these formats were ineffective and difficult to manage. Online school also impeded interpersonal connections with teachers, classmates, and counselors. Students received fewer opportunities to form social connections and express their feelings. The parent-child relationship might have also changed as parents took a more active role in their children's education. Parents and friends are usually trusted and supportive individuals, but quarantine reduced the opportunities to talk to others and relieve stress. As such, it’s no surprise that many students arose from quarantine with less than ideal mental and emotional health.
Indeed, many long-lasting mental illnesses emerged from quarantine. There could be various reasons these illnesses developed: social isolation, working from home, virtual learning, or losing a job altogether. Whatever the cause, long-term mental illnesses lack a cure; there is only treatment. Thus, a person must rely on external help such as therapy for most of their life. That external support was hard to find during quarantine, and various online therapy resources lack efficacy.
Quarantine blocked access to mental health support. Many faced financial difficulties, so they could not afford therapy. People sought help at different levels, and not everyone successfully received help. As noted by the Commonwealth Fund based on the 1918 influenza pandemic, quarantine’s effects lasted for several generations. Thus, mental health is unlikely to improve even as people recover from their financial situations enough to seek therapy. Some people who need help may not qualify for therapy, while others may not be able to find help despite qualifying for it. On the other hand, self-diagnosis and self-treatment in the absence of professional help can have disastrous effects, such as reliance on drugs and alcohol. Unfortunately, there is no single strategy to combat the nation’s shortcomings in mental health care because various areas have different causes: a lack of financial resources, low supply, or high demand.
COVID-19 has changed mental health for the worse and will continue to affect it in the future. There is already evidence of a worsening healthcare system, and there will be a prolonged period when healthcare is inaccessible, exacerbating quarantine’s effect on mental health.