Paolo is 18 years old and hardly ever leaves his room other than to go to the bathroom and to eat, preferably without meeting his family. Giulia, now in her seventies, expands her area of movement to her entire house, which she shares with her daughter, but also does not set foot outside the house: she has been locked up practically since the pandemic broke out in Italy last February. The cases of this retiree paralyzed by the fear of being infected and of this young student, whose introversion has skyrocketed with online classes and long distance relationships, are two examples of the effects that the coronavirus has on the general population. The health emergency leaves traces on the mental health of all, not only those infected, their families and health workers, in addition to aggravating the conditions of those who already suffered from a previous disorder.
“The pandemic causes dramatic consequences by increasing psychopathological syndromes and social difficulties,” warns Massimo Di Giannantonio, professor of psychiatry at the G. D’Annunzio University of Chieti-Pescara and president of the Italian Society of Psychiatry. “In addition to the fear of getting infected, a state of concern about economic instability, the lack of future prospects and the well-being of our loved ones is common.” Even those who face the pandemic with serenity in their heads and in their pockets cannot escape the so-called «limbo anxiety», motivated by difficulties in making plans, doubts about restrictions or insecurity about whether the vaccine will allow the normalcy back to our lives.
INCIDENCE OF THE CORONAVIRUS IN ITALY:
The consumption of anxiolytics and hypnotics to reduce anxiety and promote sleep has grown.
The demand for antidepressants in pharmacies has increased, according to providers.
Suicides have increased in the country, according to data from the Italian Psychiatric Society.
is the increase observed in parasuicidal behaviors during the pandemic.
There is data that corroborates the harmful effects of the pandemic on the mental health of Italians. In recent months, pharmaceutical wholesalers have registered a 28.5% increase in requests for anxiolytic and hypnotic drugs, which help reduce anxiety and sleep, and a 19.5% increase in antidepressants. “These are figures provided by the companies that supply the pharmacies,” explains Di Giannantonio, who warns that the official statistics of the Ministry of Health have not yet been published. The coronavirus would also have caused an increase of 5% in suicides and a 9.5% in parasuicidal behaviors, according to the data considered by the Italian Society of Psychiatry.
Although they are the least likely to develop symptoms of Covid-19, young people of school age constitute one of the population groups that most concern mental health experts. “In the first and second adolescence, the passage from childhood to adulthood takes place, which is why the maturation and growth phase through responsibility and socialization is essential,” explains the professor of Psychiatry. This process is much more difficult with the kids locked up in their homes due to restrictions, which condemn them to distance learning and reduce the possibility of establishing and maintaining face-to-face relationships with their peers.
Prisoners of family hierarchies
“Confinement blocks evolutionary processes and delays maturation and independence,” says Di Giannantonio. This result is a consequence of the “lack of time to live together at school and on the street, where adolescents begin to act independently.” Instead, they are “prisoners of family hierarchies in their homes.” The pandemic, in addition, increases their tendency to have social relationships that inexorably pass through technological means. «Thus the confusion between the real and the virtual increases. This has consequences that we will not see until later, ”says the expert.
“Social relations go through technological means, which increases the confusion between the real and the virtual”
Massimo Di Giannantonio | President of the Italian Society of Psychiatry
Along with the young, the elderly constitute the other large population group of particular concern to psychiatrists. Being the most vulnerable to illness, they tend to isolate themselves, a behavior from which their mental health does not escape unscathed. “We know that the lack of social and emotional relationships produces an increase in anxiety, insomnia and psychopathological problems.” It is the dreaded depression, which can cause symptoms similar to Alzheimer’s disease.
The advice of the president of the Italian Society of Psychiatry to avoid reaching these situations is to “nourish our mind” with information and emotions through “horizontal” contact with other people, even if it is limited to technological means as long as it is not possible to defeat the pathogen.