Lockdown-induced social isolation is taking a toll on Czechs, leading to a rise in depression

Illustrative photo: Nik Shuliahin, Unsplash / CC0

Social isolation and loneliness – these are some of the most serious factors that can lead to depression and anxiety. According to one of the largest mental health NGOs in the Czech Republic, these issues will remain in the population months after the coronavirus epidemic subsides. However, there is also hope that the shared experienced could help remove the stigma of mental illness.

Months of lockdown have left a toll on many Czechs during the coronavirus epidemic. One of them is Ms Ivana, who told Czech Radio that this experience is different to the first lockdown when the virus arrived in the Czech Republic last spring.

“Last year it was something that was new. I was enthusiastic about the wave of solidarity that appeared among the people. We sewed masks and waited for the epidemic to pass in a few months. We looked forward to the summer. But now it has been a long winter and sometimes I feel like I do not want to get out of bed in the morning.”

After noticing feelings of anxiety and depression, Ms Ivana is now thinking of visiting a mental health professional.

Her experience is far from unique according to Dr Barbora Hrdličková, who leads the psychotherapy team at Fokus, one of the largest mental health NGOs in the Czech Republic.

Photo: Sebastian Schaeffer,  Stock.xchng

“Isolation itself takes a toll on the psyche. When a person is isolated they lose their routine, they lose contact with their close friends. In other words, one loses touch with what they are fond of. This brings the individual’s mood down. We have seen a rise in the percentage of patients suffering from anxiety and depression.”

The fact that such feelings appeared especially during the second wave of the coronavirus epidemic and the subsequent autumn lockdown is also no surprise, Dr Hrdličková told Czech Radio.

“I think we are now falling deeper and deeper into the abys. Our perception of reality is starting to loosen up and we have the feeling of losing the ground beneath our feet. Things are constantly changing and it is getting worse and worse.”

Nevertheless, the psychotherapist believes that this psychologically challenging period could lead to something positive. The wider experience of society during the pandemic could help destigmatise mental health problems.

“The stigma of mental illness can basically be characterised as the feeling within society that such an individual is weak in some way - that they just can’t cope. This is something that we often hear from people who come to us with a problem. They say that the stigma kept them from seeking professional help for a long time.

“However, COVID-19 is impacting all of us. It is forming a sort of shared experience to which people can empathise.”

The real mental toll will only become clear once the epidemic is tackled, Dr Hrdličková told Czech Radio. However, she warned that the effects of long-term stress can also be physical, manifesting themselves in forms such as stomach pains, or headaches.

Authors: Tom McEnchroe , Lucie Korcová
run audio