The Cost of COVID – PPE and Mental Health
COVID-19 has made commonplace several phrases that would only have been recognizable to the medical or epidemiological community only a year ago – social distancing, herd immunity, r-naught, and personal protective equipment (PPE). Strangely enough, just knowing these phrases and implementing the health and safety practices associated with them has not only become routine, it has also become wildly fatiguing for most people. There is ample evidence that the forced distancing and observing fewer facial expressions is allowing us to connect less with our fellow human beings and is harming our overall mental health.
Adding to the potentially more obvious aspect of connecting less, our brains have adapted to this pandemic – if we see someone we don’t recognize or trust who is not wearing a mask in public, our immediate thoughts are anger, fear, anxiety, or disappointment, all negative emotions that have not been helped by public figures strangely making PPE a political power-play. Almost a full year of constantly wearing PPE, policing ourselves (and the people around us) regarding how to move and touch and breathe, and being wracked by anxiety by each cough, sniffle, or sneeze means that we have wrung ourselves out on this pandemic, and our collective mental health has taken a turn for the worse.
However, the best possible response to this PPE mental health lag is that those who have the power to do something seem to have recognized the problem, and are actively trying to help. For too long, most people and businesses assumed that occupational health was just about avoiding sickness and injury while at work, regrettably neglecting occupational health standards relating to mental health. COVID-19 has magnified this discrepancy and many organizations are doing the right thing by putting so-called ‘psychological’ or ‘mental health’ PPE in place for their workers.
Many of these practices include limiting time spent in work environments or facilitating therapeutic practices, but many more are addressing the equipment itself. During this pandemic, even though there are significant mental health drawbacks to them, PPE is often non-negotiable even for a visit to the grocery store. But the right innovation can help avoid those drawbacks while still keeping people safe from the spread of COVID-19. Clear masks and face-shields are now being manufactured to help showcase the smile – a bridge to connect on a level of shared humanity once again. The innovations, however, will not stop there.
COVID-19 may have been around for longer than any of us wanted, but we have all gained an education from the pandemic. Addressing the negative emotions that can arise as a result of continuing to shut ourselves off from others – both physically and mentally – is part of this continuing education. Being able to anticipate these challenges and come up with groundbreaking solutions to them is just one solution that we have found, and we are certain that more will follow.