For several months now, people around the world have faced an unprecedented attack on their health, well-being and economy. This has created further obstacles for those already suffering from mental disorders ranging from anxiety to depression to substance abuse. It also creates mental problems in the population on a scale never seen before. The coronavirus is an unseen enemy that has been shown to affect the mental well-being of nearly half of the U.S. population. [1] Given that the pandemic and control methods are likely to continue, these statistics can only get worse, placing an enormous burden on mental health practitioners to remain innovative in supporting and treating their clients.

The mental impact of Covid-19 or Coronavirus falls mainly into two categories. Dealing with the disease itself and the fear of contracting it as well as dealing with the measures put in place to try to mitigate its spread. The problems encountered include: [2], [3]

  • Fear for one’s own health
  • Worry and fear for the health of loved ones
  • Coping with the loss of a loved one
  • Financial distress caused by job loss, reduced business opportunities or business closures
  • Isolation and loneliness for vulnerable people having to protect themselves, closed schools, support services, workplaces and entertainment venues as well as the inability to see and connect with friends and family due to confinement
  • Fear of what the future may bring

In turn, these problems lead to a range of symptoms that can be experienced to a greater or lesser extent. These include:

  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Changes in eating habits leading to excessive weight gain or loss
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Generalized or more specific anxieties
  • The appearance of signs of depression
  • The appearance of a phobia such as agoraphobia
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Worsening of existing health problems
  • Worsening of existing mental problems such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia
  • Increased use of tobacco, alcohol or other substances
  • The onset of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder after surviving the coronavirus

How to cope with the stress of the pandemic

Practitioners can offer counseling to help patients cope with the coronavirus pandemic and offer more specialized treatment options such as virtual reality exposure therapy (VRET). They can encourage people to keep up with the latest facts using reliable sources rather than social media, and make sure they know who to turn to if they need specific medical or financial help. It is important that even if they focus on caring for someone else, their patients can only stay strong and healthy by also taking care of themselves. While social media can be harmful if it gives false information or spreads dangerous rumors, it can be a valuable tool for connecting with others and reducing the impact of isolation.

Learning relaxation tools such as yoga and meditation or spending a few minutes doing deep breathing are effective coping mechanisms. Eating a healthy diet and getting enough sleep are essential, as is trying to avoid the temptation to drink too much and smoke. Studies by the World Health Organization [4] show that smoking is clearly involved in hospitalization and death from coronavirus. If, however, coronavirus-related anxieties, eating disorders, addictions, stress and phobias become too difficult to manage at home, then Virtual Reality Exposure Therapies (VRET) are proving to be an essential part of the therapist’s toolbox.

The use of TERVs to treat anxiety and other disorders

Studies referenced by reliable sources such as NCBI show that the use of TERVs is “highly effective in treating phobias compared to active or inactive controls and was slightly but significantly more effective than in vivo exposure”. [5] With C2Care, health professionals are successfully using this virtual therapy and are now applying it to mental problems such as anxiety and hygiene phobias created by the coronavirus pandemic.

Once reserved for military training, then a popular part of the virtual gaming world, virtual reality has become a cutting-edge tool that allows clients to expose themselves in a safe and controlled manner to the stimuli that cause their anxieties. VETs work on principles similar to those of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Anxieties and phobias cause people to avoid the situations that provoke them, thus limiting their lifestyle. With this therapy, they are gradually exposed to these fear-provoking situations in a slow, safe and controlled manner until they can act normally and enjoy life again.

Social distancing and isolation whether self-imposed or government imposed can lead to agoraphobia, the fear of leaving the house or being in stressful situations such as public transportation or shopping. With our TERV applications, the patient is progressively exposed to places that trigger their anxiety. During the sessions, the therapist is in complete control and can increase or decrease the virtual exposure according to the patient’s responses. This immediate feedback in a safe and controlled environment proves to be a valuable tool.

Being critically ill or having to spend time in intensive care units leads to delayed onset of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in recovered coronavirus patients. With TERVs, patients can safely re-engage with the incidents that triggered their trauma response. C2Care uses this virtual therapy to recreate the trauma of the ICU allowing clients to visualize and manage it in context, gradually removing the vivid and debilitating memories and flashbacks left by their illness.

As the world emerges from the pandemic and individuals and societies adjust to a new “normal,” effective, targeted mental health care and support will be more important than ever. At C2Care, we can help you provide it.

Bibliography: