March 26, 2020 / BY JEFFREY KLUGER
As the physical coronavirus pandemic continues to spread, an emotional pandemic is following fast in its wake. When the whole world is going to pieces, it’s awfully hard for the human mind—a fragile thing in the best of times—to cope, and more and more, doctors are reporting the spread of despair, worry and depression among their patients, especially those already suffering from some form of anxiety disorder.
Even before COVID-19 hit its shores, the U.S. was a clinically anxious place. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, just over 19% of all American adults will experience at least one anxiety disorder over any 12-month period. The fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, the mental-health professionals’ bible, lists a dozen different anxiety and related conditions. Not all are likely to be especially affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, but a number are, especially obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, agoraphobia, acute stress disorder and separation anxiety disorder. Given that many around the world are being told by public health and political officials not to come within six feet of one another, this last one hits especially hard.
It’s too early in the coronavirus plague to know the exact extent to which anxiety disorders are on the rise, mostly because the clinical cases are lost in the much louder noise of the global panic. But anecdotally, at least, doctors are reporting both new anxieties among existing patients, and relapses among former ones. “We are seeing our clients who are prone to anxiety or depression or OCD experiencing more symptoms,” says psychologist Stefanie Sugar, a Manhattan-based practitioner.