The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound effect on society. From social isolation to the financial implications of a global economic shutdown, the long-term social impact of COVID-19 will be felt for years to come as we navigate what British Academy researchers refer to as “the COVID decade”.
While lockdowns continue in some parts of the world, global statistics show that the prevalence of cases has decreased considerably since the beginning of 2022. However, this doesn’t mean that we aren’t still getting sick or experiencing the long-term social impacts of the pandemic, especially when it comes to our mental health.
To get some perspective on how COVID-19 has changed our lives and affected our wellbeing, we’ll give an overview of some of the key issues we are facing when it comes to the long-term repercussions of this global respiratory illness.
One of the most deep-rooted long-term social impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic is how it impacted social mobility. In a short space of time, we were required to make plans to self-isolate for weeks, during which there was no clear idea of what was going to happen or when life would go back to “normal”.
From a socio-economic perspective, this highlighted issues such as homelessness, social inequality and a lack of infrastructure and available resources for the most vulnerable in society. Vulnerable societal members such as the elderly, people with disabilities and people living in poverty were the hardest hit, but also often had the least access to support.
Social and community support has shown to be vital in coping with the stresses of the pandemic. Unfortunately for those without a community to turn to for support, this kind of isolation would have had a profound effect on mental and physical well-being. While there were many people who did step up, social services need to be adapted moving forward to be able to support people in future crises.
Access to resources
As we mentioned above, not everyone in society had access to the psychological and technological tools to stay connected during the extended lockdown and afterwards. Many people were retrenched or lost their jobs, and some people lost their businesses and livelihoods. The impacts of this kind of social disruption have been severe for many.
The knock-on effect on the economy is no doubt going to be felt for some time, as supply chains adapt and change due to further shifts in the global economy. Since many supply chains broke down during the height of the pandemic, the world economy was affected, which led to a higher cost of living due to increased costs of transport and importation of foreign goods.
The need to manufacture and source goods locally, due to pressures on international supply chains and product availability, has led to a trend called “glocalisation”. This trend will affect the kinds of skills that need to be developed locally, which could help to create employment and reduce the unemployment rate. However, this requires changes on a large scale, similar to the changes we discussed above regarding social services.
For those working in the health industry, lockdown was intensely stressful, as they were constantly threatened with contagion and exposure to the disease. Getting to and from work would have also become a challenge for some due to curfews, and the impact on access to public transport.
Overall, the uncertainty of these times, and the subsequent economic downturn, have been stressful for everyone. The constant social distancing, wearing a mask, the fear of interacting with people face to face and worrying about getting sick presented an unwarranted level of stress, which has also led to exhaustion (especially in the healthcare industry).
On the flip side, a research paper called “The Psychological and Social Impact of Covid-19: New Perspectives of Well-Being” talks about the concept of “forced empathy” during the pandemic. While we all might try to be empathetic to others’ needs, the sheer volume of anxiety felt by everyone during this time has had an adverse effect on how we empathise with others, because we are all already feeling overwhelmed.
Losing loved ones and the fear of losing them has been a deeply felt sadness in society during and after the lockdown. People have lost family members and friends, as well as breadwinners and vital community members, which has been very traumatic. Many people could not easily see family members or friends to commemorate their loss due to social distancing regulations, and/or friends and family not being able to afford to travel.
The overwhelming grief that we have felt for ourselves and others has certainly affected our overall mental health and well-being. The inability to host and attend social and sporting events also led to an increased sense of isolation and disconnection, which hampered our ability to connect with others, leading to further isolation and mental health challenges.
A comparative study called “Long-term effects of COVID-19 on mental health: A systematic review” analysed the prevalence of anxiety and depression associated with acute COVID-19 infection in published medical studies over a certain time period. The outcome of this study was there was no considerable increase in anxiety and depression associated with COVID-19 infection in comparison to general population levels.
However, while anxiety and depression might not always be a direct result of having had COVID-19, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the pandemic triggered an increase in anxiety and depression by 25%.
However, these statistics also only show the percentage of people who sought help, so this number could be a lot higher if we consider that not everyone has access to affordable and quality mental health care. Cultural norms and financial pressures may also prevent people from seeking help, as they feel like they just need to carry on and do the best they can to cope.
Overall, UN data shows that global investment in mental health is poor, with just 1 mental health worker to 100 000 people. This shows a need for governments and society to prioritise mental health and to shift how we address emotional well-being in society, as a result of COVID-19 and moving forward.
Learn about the long-term social impact of COVID-19 with SACAP Global
At SACAP Global, we equip working professionals with the tools to upskill and future-proof their skill set. With a focus on Applied Psychology, all of our short courses provide practical knowledge that can be applied in both professional counselling environments and the business world.
If you’re a mental health professional and interested in learning more about the long-term effects of the pandemic on mental health, register for online workshop : “The Long-Term Impact of COVID-19 on Mental Health – Where to From Here?”
In this prerecorded webinar, you will learn more about the impact of the pandemic in a South African context. You’ll also gain insight into how we can proactively address the mental health of society, especially when it comes to children and adolescents. This workshop will also explore tools to address post-pandemic mental health care challenges and the role of disaster psychiatry.
Healthcare professionals who are registered with the HPCSA will receive 3 CEU’s for successfully taking part in this workshop, and completing the associated reading and quiz. For more information about this online workshop, get in touch with us.