The war on mental health… literally
At a time when our mental health is already being pummeled by the effects of an ongoing pandemic, social injustices being at an all-time high and continued political partisanship, we now are grappling with the existential terror and thought of a World War III as news of the Russian invasion of Ukraine saturates media platforms. The effects that war can have on the mental health of the population involved, as well as a whole world watching, can be significant and pervasive. A combination of circumstances along with an ever increasingly sensitive trigger to symptoms has created a potential minefield for disorders and trauma developing in the world’s population.
Mental health disorders may lie dormant in a person for their entire lifetime without the proper environmental and mental trigger to launch the onset of symptoms. Those who experience loneliness or social isolation, an observed consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic response, are at risk of developing symptoms that align with that of other major mental health disorders. There is a strong correlation between the increase in social media usage and anxiety and depression. Political unrest can cause spikes in anxiety and depression, and it may come to no one’s surprise that the very people pledged to protect us often utilize this to their advantage. Politicians and companies know all too well that anxiety and fear can cause people to make decisions they wouldn’t normally – like vote for a leader who does more harm than good. Companies too. Facebook knew the impact of Instagram on the body image and anxiety of teens but did nothing for business reasons. In war, part of the Russian strategy has been to terrorize civilians in order to get submission from the government. The people who should be most concerned about our anxiety – government, politicians, and companies – are leveraging it.
Can any of these in isolation trigger a mental health disorder that has been lying dormant in someone? Yes.
The combination of isolation, loneliness, existential dread from a deadly disease that is sweeping through nations, political unrest and a war whose reach and impact on humanity is unknown is more than enough ammo to trigger someone.
For the people of Ukraine, the unfortunate reality is the prevalence of PTSD developing among the population experiencing the horrors of war. The people most at risk are the vulnerable populations, women and children, and frontline soldiers. It is not hard to imagine why the development of PTSD is so high among people of war. Soldiers are constantly in real fight or flight situations oftentimes dodging death, experiencing the loss of fellow soldiers, or experiencing the unnatural and barbaric feeling of taking another’s life. Civilians are also experiencing real fight or flight, fear of losing their loved ones left to fight, fear for their lives and livelihoods, homes and neighbors disappearing before their eyes.
It is also not hard to see in our ever-evolving digital world the effects of getting bombarded with real-time updates, pictures, and videos of the horrors abroad.
So, is there any hope?
Resilience, awareness and science.
The healthcare industry has made incredible advances in the treatment and prevention of PTSD, especially in times of natural disasters or war. Some predictors of resilience are social support, adaptive coping styles, preventive treatments including psychological first aid (early intervention helps prevent Acute Stress Disorder from turning into PTSD).
Online therapy has boomed since the start of the pandemic, in companies like BetterHelp which helps makes therapy accessible to those who cannot afford traditional or have a harder time with in person treatment.
Mental health is also gaining more traction in the spotlight with advocacy groups and resources being more widely available and known than ever before.
With preventative measures and resources abundant, we as a society have never been more ready to tackle these challenges.