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Reducing the Psychological Impact of Quarantine

April 24, 2020

Written by Nicole McCoin

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Many negative, even delayed psychological effects of quarantine have been described. We will discuss ways to mitigate these effects.

Why does this matter?
It is obviously important to understand the sweeping ramifications of COVID-19, including those that are psychological. Many of us are on quarantine due to exposures at work. In many instances we are doing so to protect our families and others. It’s important to take a moment and acknowledge just how hard this truly is. It can have impressive effects on us psychologically, not just now, but in the future.

Take Care of Yourself
This was a review of 24 papers describing psychological impacts of quarantine. Quarantine is, “separation and restriction of movement of people who have potentially been exposed to a contagious disease to ascertain if they become unwell, so reducing the risk of them infecting others.” This is a different concept than isolation, in which people with the disease are separated from those who are not. Length of quarantine time in these papers ranged between 1-3 weeks. Many of us in healthcare have separated from our families even longer than that.

People who are quarantined are more likely to exhibit symptoms such as: exhaustion, detachment from others, irritability, difficulty sleeping, and poor concentration. Those with a history of psychiatric illness did not seem to do as well. It surprised me that some healthcare workers may have downstream psychological effects – post traumatic stress, depressive symptoms, or alcohol abuse – up to three years later, especially those quarantined for over 10 days.

Ways to mitigate the effects of quarantine include: 1) provide adequate supplies (i.e. toilet paper, wine, coffee, etc. – kidding…or am I?); 2) communicate clearly regarding the details of the quarantine (duration, warning signs, etc.); and 3) provide ways for people to communicate and socialize from a distance. However, my favorite idea is that healthcare workers deserve special attention and support from their organization or employer. So, take some time for you! Thank you for all you are giving and all you are risking to care for those who really need you.

The psychological impact of quarantine and how to reduce it: rapid review of the evidence. Lancet. 2020 Mar 14;395(10227):912-920. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(20)30460-8. Epub 2020 Feb 26.

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What are your thoughts?