As many already know, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected more than just the world economy. Some patients are fortunate enough to just experience mild symptoms, while others will require hospitalisation and even respiratory assistance. Eventually, many will recover, but there will be a few who will die from the disease. Thus, experts want to highlight the psychological effects of the health crisis especially to those who lost loved ones. Psychiatrists are calling it prolonged grief disorder.

Unlike how most people behave shortly after bereavement wherein they eventually adapt to the change in circumstances, it can last more than six months. The abstract – published in The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry – notes that this is mostly observed in older adults. The disorder is also called complicated grief and is described as "persistent yearning for and preoccupying thoughts and memories of the deceased, as well as emotional pain that causes impairment in everyday activities."

Among the symptoms observed were changes in sleeping patterns, poor appetite, low energy levels, guilt, sadness, and anger. "Bereavement is the normal process of reacting to a loss," explains Dr. Divya Jose in an interview with ABC News. "Complicated grief is an inability to accept the loss and move forward. The symptoms become debilitating and don't improve with time."

An estimated 2-3 percent of the global population are likely prone to experience prolonged grief disorder, which is brought about by the loss of a life partner or child due to sudden death. Moreover, those who were the primary caregiver of the individual who passed away and has a history of anxiety, mood swings, and trauma are likewise susceptible.

Jose pointed out that "in addition to the unexpected nature of coronavirus-related deaths, the disruption in traditional grieving processes -- such as the practice of religious rituals, the limitation of visitors and the practice of social isolation -- could potentially interfere with normal grieving, causing a rise in complicated grief."

Virus takes toll on mental health
Professional bodies and experts in Europe want more support to tackle the psychological impact of dealing with coronavirus on staff. Photo: AFP / Gent SHKULLAKU

On the other hand, bereavement is known to trigger anxiety, depression, and trauma-related disorders, but not necessarily prolonged grief. Therefore, healthcare professionals should know how to identify and provide the necessary care and treatments to help patients manage their mental health during this challenging situation.