The mental health issues that stem from the pandemic can be said to have reached farther than the COVID-19 virus itself. Reuters report that people who contract COVID-19 are highly likely to develop mental illnesses within 90 days. Other studies claim that the opposite could potentially be true as well. According to the WHO, people who already suffer from mental health problems tend to get infected or develop complications far easier than those that don’t have pre-existing mental health issues. But, COVID-19 has also helped mental illnesses proliferate more indirectly. Widespread lockdowns, forced quarantine, and other measures taken against the spread of the pandemic all take a toll on a person’s wellbeing too.

However, there is an unseen benefit here. The extensive pandemic-caused mental illness outbreak has allowed researchers and scientists to collect data on a massive scale. Mental health clinics would then be able to use this much bigger sample size to better understand mental health issues in the future. If managed well, this could also lead to a better pandemic response effort that doesn’t only protect citizens from pathogens, but from psychological pressures as well.

Valuable Insights from Localized Studies

Currently, mental health clinics, organizations, and advocates are already conducting a handful of localized studies. A year into the pandemic, some of them have already shown promising results.

As of right now, data from various studies has already led to useful insights. According to the Headspace Organization, for example, young people are more vulnerable to pandemic-related mental health illnesses than adults. Today Singapore, on the other hand, reports that there has been a rise in domestic violence against women during the pandemic. This type of data should be able to help mental health clinics to focus on reaching out to these vulnerable members of society.

This data prompts psychologists in Singapore to prepare for an influx of patients consulting about domestic abuse. Art therapy or other forms of depression treatment, can then, therefore, be adjusted or tweaked as needed.

The Potential of Global Research and Studies

The pandemic’s global scale also has some advantages. Professionals can now perform studies on an unprecedented scale. This is a particularly unique circumstance as virtually all nations have been affected. This gives researchers a huge sample size in studying mental health related issues in contrast to culture, ideologies, religion, and other factors.

Scientists and researchers will also be able to test and analyse the effects of specific pandemic measures and policies and their effects on people’s mental wellbeing. “Together, these types of study will tell us how government policies are experienced across different segments of societies and will help us understand how we should manage this pandemic, and future pandemics,” says James Nazroo, a University of Manchester sociologist in this article from Nature.

Data Standardization

The beginnings of an international effort to consolidate COVID-19-related mental health studies are already on their way. CovidMinds, for example, is an effort from the University College London’s Daisy Fancourt to standardize questionnaires and survey forms for studies that are currently under way in over 70 countries. Such efforts should help scientists collaborate, check, and compare results without sacrificing the integrity of the collected data.

The effects of COVID-19 have been devastating. But that is no reason to not make use of the pandemic to move mental health awareness forward. The massive amounts of data that we can collect from the whole pandemic, therefore, must be put to good use.

The data can be used, for example, for studies aimed at crafting better depression treatment methodologies for mental health clinics to implement in their practice.

Fortunately, Singapore psychiatrists, mental health professionals, and data scientists are already making the necessary steps to make better use of the collected data. Standardization is a great first step. However, for deeper insights and better results, a more collaborative effort still needs to be done.

As with any scientific endeavour the availability of data is one of the biggest factors for success. With optimizing depression treatment, this influx of massive amounts of data could very well be a catalyst for innovation.