By Linda Nwoke
The effect of a pandemic such as COVID 19 often goes beyond medical and physiological changes. It leaves individuals and society with consequences beyond physical illness—resulting in mental and social repercussions. Psychological reactions such as increased anxiety, heightened stress level, outbursts, disruptive behavior, and stigma, to mention a few, can often go undiagnosed or disassociated with the effect of the pandemic.
Most people recall that everyone was forced to isolate themselves at the pandemic’s peak to control the spread of COVID. Research shows that the act of self-isolation and quarantine harm people’s mental health. While the short-term impact is somewhat evident and assessed, the jury is out on the longer-term effect of COVID 19 on mental health. Experts have tried to explain that humans are naturally social beings. Any disruption in their natural way of existence comes with a price.
In a report by The Lancet Medical Journal, the loss of freedom, separation from loved ones, uncertainty, and boredom sometimes deteriorate an individual’s mental health status. Interestingly other works reveal that different age groups display both short and long-term effects in their social behavior due to isolation.
Effect of COVID-19 on Children and Teens
Generally, children and parents respond to stress in different ways. Children can experience social isolation, abusive environment, anxiety, and distress differently, with both short‐ and long‐term effects on their mental health. Some of the expected changes associated with the pandemic and observed in children’s behavior include – increased annoying behavior, crying, worrying, sadness, short attention span, difficulties concentrating, changes in eating habits, unexplained headaches, and bodily pains.
Effect of COVID-19 on People with Disabilities and Elders
Being more prone to COVID, the mandated physical distancing due to the COVID‐19 outbreak at home among family members placed the elderly and disabled persons at mental health risk. Causing them anxiety, distress, and induced trauma which can damage a family system.
For the elderly and disabled people living in nursing homes, COVID‐19 can increase their depression, stress, and anxiety, especially among older adults already dealing with mental health issues.
Often, they display behavioral changes like irritation, emotional outbursts, shouting, and changes in eating and sleeping habits.
For the general adult population, the fear, challenges, and isolation caused by COVID-19 left individuals, families, and communities with effects on their mental health due to the disruption in their routine and relationships.
Effect of COVID-19 on Immigrants
A lot of data establishes that clusters of the population with socio-economic disadvantages are more predisposed toward poor health conditions and often suffer from chronic diseases, increasing the risk of comorbidity of these diseases with COVID-19. Immigrants usually fit within such circumstances and are likely to live in sub-standard lodgings, overcrowded homes, and poor housing conditions. Thus, increasing the likelihood of infection because many cohabit as extended families. A combination of poor health conditions, absence of insurance, and underprivileged housing conditions increase the spread of COVID.
Yet, such a housing scenario remains a norm for many asylum seekers and refugees. Conversely, many immigrants find themselves in predominantly face-to-face occupations instead of remote, thereby exposing them to the virus. Besides that, they must work in complex and unsafe work environments with hazardous conditions that sometimes foster COVID-19 transmission.
Immigrants and Mental Disorders
The World Health Organization (WHO) records that in 2019, there were over 250 million international migrants. They include refugees, asylum seekers, and irregular migrants who often need protection and support. Due to their exposure to various stressful situations before and during their migration journey and after reaching their destination, they often struggle with mental health issues that go unnoticed.
During the phase of settlement and integration, noncitizens and immigrants deal with immigration-related stressors. These include social marginalization, language barriers, cultural shock, isolation, anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and increased suicidal thoughts and risk among immigrants.
Some of these disorders can be higher among migrants exposed to adversity and refugees, reports WHO. For immigrants that have preexisting psychological disorders or psychosocial problems, any additional stress can cause them to go overboard. In reality, immigrants will benefit from extra care in mental and psychosocial support. Enabling them to integrate into their new society, as migrating from one country to another, evokes stress on individuals as they struggle to adjust to life in a foreign culture and context. Without this recognition and support, life may likely become unbearable for noncitizens with mental disorders. In addition to these challenges, the pandemic may increase cases and symptoms of poor mental health among immigrants leading to dire consequences on their immigration status such as detention, removal, or deportation.
ICE and Immigrants with Mental Health
In April 2022, the U.S agency overseeing Immigration and Customs activities, United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), shared their new policies to protect further detained noncitizens and other immigrants with severe mental conditions or disorders. The new directive is covered in the agency’s ‘ICE Directive 11063.2 Identification, Recordkeeping, Safe Release and Communication, and Safe Release Planning for Detained Individuals with Serious Mental Disorders or Conditions,’. Under the new directive, emphasis is made on how to support the vulnerable population through identification, treatment, and monitoring.
According to Tae D Johnson, ICE Acting Director, the agency continues its efforts to implement directives and policies that support a humane, fair, and orderly immigration system. He explained that the directive reinforces the agency’s existing guidelines regarding treating detainees with a severe mental disorder or condition. The order covers the detainee’s removal, transfer, or safe release, as permitted by law.
Other areas covered by the new guidelines are summarized as follows:
- Ensuring that ICE provides the information relevant to an individual’s severe mental disorder or condition to enable an immigration judge to determine the individual’s competence in representing themselves in removal proceedings;
- Introducing additional safeguards before the transfer, release, or removal of individuals with severe mental conditions such as disorders or conditions and/or who are incompetent to represent themselves in removal proceedings
- ICE must properly document all critical information regarding the detained noncitizens with a severe mental disorder or condition in specific systems.
- Consistent with the agency’s national detention standards, everyone in their custody should receive a comprehensive examination by a qualified health care professional within 14 days of arrival at a detention facility.
- And individuals identified as having severe mental disorders or conditions must be provided appropriate treatment and monitoring.
The new directive from ICE is undoubtedly a welcome development among noncitizens, especially the more vulnerable individuals and populations with mental health challenges and the aftermath of a lingering pandemic such as COVID-19.