As Italy continues to emerge from two months of a harsh lockdown amid the outbreak of the coronavirus, New Europe’s Federico Grandesso spoke with Angela Favaro, a professor of psychiatry at Padua University in Italy, about an ongoing international study that is looking into physical and mental health issues that have been caused by the quarantine.
NEW EUROPE (NE): Professor Favaro, could you tell me about some of the details pertaining to the international research initiative that you’re now starting about the consequences of COVID-19, particularly related to mental health disorders?
ANGELA FAVARO (AF): This project was created and put in place by Professor Marco Solmi, in collaboration with colleagues from all over the world. The study examines the physical and psychological health of people. The first call to participate has already started and there will be a second round in the next six months and a third in twelve months in order to understand the long-term consequences for people.
We already had other international studies look into the consequences of the quarantine, but we didn’t have any evaluation of the consequences of the lockdown for longer periods. The outcome is crucial to implement proper health services to help and manage these problems in the future.
NE: In your view, what sort of negative consequences will there as a result of having to stay home for more than two months?
AF: The lockdown required an immense physical and psychological adaptation to a very different lifestyle. This was combined with major social isolation, and this aspect has far more negative consequences on the elderly, people who live alone, and on teenagers. After that, we have people who already had mental and physical health problems. They will, of course, experience even more negative effects. They will be at the highest risk to have new psychological problems that will include dark periods and even suicidal behaviour.
I don’t have any detailed statistics on this, but I see in a lot of such cases that are obviously related to the trauma of having had to deal with the COVID-19 quarantines.
The people who can’t tolerate the isolation and the lack of physical activities creates deep anxieties, nervousness, and insomnia. There is, of course, huge growth in the number of symptoms connected to general bouts of stress and a feeling of vulnerability.
With our current patients, the priority was to continue their ongoing therapy session for this exact reason. It’s been necessary for patients who remain under quarantine to find a way to do distance therapy. We advise avoiding negative feelings at home that it’s imperative that they fix meal times, have a regular sleeping pattern, and actively work to have a stable rhythm to their daily activities.
NE: What is your prediction about future mental health disorders that are related to COVID-19?
AF: In terms of mental health, we are already seeing the consequences, but this is only the beginning. What we expect is a steady growth in the number of patients who need psychiatric and physical therapy. In order to provide that kind of care for people, the authorities need to strengthen and improve the facilities and equipment that is needed. I hope that the regional authority (in the Veneto) will understand the need for better and more care.