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May 27, 2020

Psychiatry in Times of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Pandemic: An Imperative for Psychiatrists to Act Now

Author Affiliations
  • 1Department of Psychiatry, UMC Utrecht Brain Center, University Medical Center Utrecht, Utrecht University, Utrecht, the Netherlands
  • 2Second Opinion Outpatient Clinic, GGNet Mental Health, Warnsveld, the Netherlands
  • 3Department of Psychiatry, Amsterdam University Medical Center, Amsterdam, the Netherlands
  • 4Department of Anatomy and Neurosciences, Amsterdam University Medical Center, Amsterdam, the Netherlands
  • 5Department of Medical Humanities, Amsterdam University Medical Center, Amsterdam, the Netherlands
  • 6Department of Philosophy, Vrije Universiteit University, Amsterdam, the Netherlands
JAMA Psychiatry. Published online May 27, 2020. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2020.1225

The global effect of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is at an unprecedented large scale and changes rapidly, with lockdowns and other confinement measures at place in several countries. The undoubtedly widespread negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on mental health and mental health care do not mean that psychiatrists cannot diminish this effect. Here, we argue that psychiatrists can act now to help contain the current crisis.

Both the outbreak itself and the ensuing preventive measures are bound to severely affect mental health in those with and those without a history of mental illness and in health care workers. First, social isolation and the uncertainties around the virus may bring about depressive thoughts, despair, anxiety, and loneliness. Consequently, psychiatric symptoms in people without a history of mental illness may emerge and preexisting psychiatric conditions may worsen. Second, information about institutional prevention measures may be relatively hard to appraise and comply with by patients with cognitive impairment or acute psychiatric illness. The effect of COVID-19 on mental health and mental health care stands in contrast to the myriad measures a psychiatrist can take to diminish the effect of the pandemic on patients with psychiatric illness and the general population. Here, we argue that actions can be readily taken by psychiatrists themselves, creating an imperative for psychiatrists to act now. We envision 5 actions that carry the potential to reduce the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic within and outside the field of psychiatry.

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