We all want to be healthy. That’s why we exercise, eat healthily, wash our hands regularly and stay indoors as much as possible. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us all that health is important. But being healthy means not only being physically strong but also mentally. Unfortunately, this conclusion is not always a given in our society. Furthermore, stigmatization around mental health, makes it even more difficult to focus on it and educate people about it. However, mental and physical health go hand in hand. Therefore, it is even more important to raise awareness about mental health with regard to the pandemic and its long-term consequences.
Since the onset of the pandemic, the consequences on our mental health have been striking. When the new and worrying situation was first announced, there was heightened anxiety in society. As this initial moment passed and the situation seemed to worsen, more negative psychological effects started to emerge. Our cell phones seemed to be beeping non-stop with push notifications, and the conversation about COVID-19 gradually found a place in every aspect of our lives, becoming ubiquitous. We found ourselves in a situation where we were confronted with a surplus of information in the media, whilst at the same time, a voice that could give us an answer to all our questions and fears was missing.
Mental health in a global pandemic
In addition, the institutional measures put in place to control the pandemic have a negative impact on our mind. People are isolated or quarantined, forbidden from maintaining their social contacts. This can cause post-traumatic stress, depression, and sleep disturbances. Worldwide there are higher levels of anxiety, self-harm, and suicide. Job insecurity, fear of loss of income or unemployment, have also had long-lasting negative effects on mental health. More and more people are thus dependant on the support of psychotherapists and those already struggling with mental health issues, unfortunately, suffer even more. The problem is that this increased demand cannot be adequately met and many people do not receive the support they need in their daily life.
For this reason it is all the more important to act preventively on a personal level. This includes being aware of the consequences and paying attention to one’s own psychological situation. Just as we are used to taking care of the health of our body, we must do the same for the health of our mind. This includes embracing the situation with COVID-19 and accepting that the pandemic has now become part of our everyday lives and that no one is immune. This is the first step in protecting ourselves. Embracing the situation means adapting to it. The pandemic restricts our social life and takes away our daily structure. This changes our behavioural patterns, which are decisive for any psychological fluctuations. We must counteract this by establishing our own routine and regularity in everyday life. For example, a solid daily structure can be regained by means of a plan. Nevertheless, support should be sought at an early stage as soon as it becomes apparent that the situation is becoming too much for the individual. We need to realize that everyone is experiencing similar feelings and that we all need help and support.
The effects of mental health on political behaviour
The effects of decreased mental health due to COVID-19 are also evident on a political level. The pandemic stokes fear, which changes not only our personal but also political behaviour. The economic and social uncertainty in which we find ourselves leads to increasing criticism and mistrust in political institutions and their measures. We transfer our dissatisfaction with the current situation to politics, which is reflected in changed political behaviour. As a result, one can observe declining support for mainstream parties and a rise of extremist ones. Distrust in mainstream parties opens the window for the emergence or the rise of extremist parties. For this reason, a surge to the right during the last year can be explained.
In combination with social isolation, many people are increasingly looking for affirmation and a sense of purpose. In many cases, they do not feel understood and look for support. This makes many vulnerable to far-right groups that exploit this emotionally charged political state and use it for their political agenda. The substance abuse caused by the consequences of the current situation also encourages violence, which causes an even stronger tendency toward radicalism.
As mentioned above, the consequences of declining mental health are drastic in our private lives, but also at the political level. Consequently, the demand for mental health services has and needs to increase. According to the WHO, countries have invested less than 2% of their national health budget in mental health. The pandemic has shown us that this needs to change. Due to this surge in demand, countries are now forced to invest in this sector. This could be a new positive approach to not only raise awareness about mental health but also to start a destigmatization process.
 Impact of Covid-19 on violent extremism and terrorism, United Nations Institute for training and research.