The world is still feeling the impacts of the novel virus coronavirus, although its severity has significantly reduced in the last few months. Widely known as coronavirus and later COVID-19, it is an infectious health condition that can be spread and transmitted from one individual to another. It was first discovered in Wuhan, China, in late 2019, when pneumonia cases of unknown etiology were reported. Following its emergence, it quickly spread to other parts of the world, making it challenging for people and governments to put the necessary measures to reduce its severity and protect themselves from contracting it (Jaspal & Lopes, 2021). It soon manifested itself as a global pandemic that resulted in severe public health concerns, as reported by the World Health Organization. It became serious for most individuals and nations when global health organizations such as World Health Organization declared it a global pandemic due to the increased transmissions among different individuals in different nations. According to the current medical statistics, by February 2021, more than 108 million individuals globally had contracted the disease (Mia & Griffiths, 2021).
As a measure to flatten the curve and reduce its global widespread, nations put in place strict measures. For example, most if not all nations globally introduced quarantine and economic lockdown to contain the rapid transmission of the virus. Unfortunately, this was not enough, and the international community was forced to suspend flights, encourage social distancing, teleworking, avoid big gatherings, mandatory use of face masks, and encourage hand hygiene (Burn & Mudholkar, 2020). As people were stuck at home with no job or schools while the world health organization and other health agencies were working on containing the situation, quarantine significantly impacted people. Existing studies suggest that the pandemic caused a prolonged exposure to stress by the majority of the people in the community apart from healthcare employees who were working day and night to contain it.
As a result, researchers have shown an increased interest in identifying and measuring psychological and mental uneasiness associated with the pandemic to understand how it affected the quality of life and what psychological services can be instrumental in enhancing the quality of life among the affected communities (Ekezie et al., 2020). Notably, this increased attention on the psychological and mental impact of the pandemic can help the government and non-government organizations better manage such situations in the future, considering that this is not the first or the last time that the world has witnessed devastating epidemics and pandemics. The current literature on the impact of this pandemic on the general population makes clear that the measures taken by the government had different impacts on individuals (Banerjee et al., 2020). For example, in the United States, more than 45% of the population self-reported that they were experiencing anxiety and stress resulting from the pandemic and its uncertainties. This number significantly increased as people continued to physically distance themselves even from their families, while others were worried about contracting the infection, considering that there is no cure.
Further statistics suggest that more than a third of the population in the United Kingdom reported experiencing severe anxiety since the onset of the pandemic, considering that it was clear no one was safe from it. Notably, all people were in danger of developing the condition irrespective of their demographic and geographic characteristics, further increasing anxiety, depression, and stress (Misra et al., 2020). In Italy, one of the many countries that were substantially hit by the pandemic, approximately 40% of the public reported post-traumatic stress symptoms, 20% reported stress, 20% reported severe anxiety, 15% reported depressive disorders, and 6% reported insomnia, underlining the severity of the pandemic and its mental impact on the people (Saladino et al., 2020).
While the current literature provides a clear image of how the pandemic adversely affected the quality of life of people in different regions by evaluating how they were affected psychologically, no one study has focused on the impact of Covid-19 on mental health in the South Asian community in the United Kingdom. Therefore, this research takes the opportunity to focus on this community by focusing on finding out the mental wellbeing of the South Asian community during the covid-19 pandemic living in the United Kingdom. The study’s primary research question is: What is the impact of Covid-19 on mental health among the South Asian community in the United Kingdom.
Although there are a few large-scale studies available on the real psychological and mental impact of the pandemic on the people, researchers are still invested in understanding how this pandemic affected individuals mentally. It is undeniable from the existing studies that this was one of the most severe pandemics. It has significantly contributed to a vigorous and multifaceted response from different professionals, especially health care providers (Saladino et al., 2020).
The world health organization characterizes this pandemic as SARS. An irresistible infection starts from the recently identified and novel virus coronavirus. Sar-cov-1 caused severe respiratory disorders and was first discovered in 2003. Existing evidence from studies conducted by healthcare providers suggests that SARS-CoV-2, the strain that led to the development of the COVID-19, has a zoonotic starting point on the basis that the integration and collaboration among individual bats are insignificant (Frissa & Dessalegn, 2020). The Chinese authorities first discovered this strain of the virus in Wuhan, China. Unfortunately, they initially believed that this was a new strain of pneumonia, given its respiratory symptoms and signs. However, when it became clear that this new strain was difficult to manage and cure, Chinese authorities began exploring other health infections and the right intervention to contain and control them (Frissa & Dessalegn, 2020).
The mass spread of the virus affected every community member, including children, directly and indirectly. For example, most people, especially in the tourism industry, lost their source of income as the global economy came to a standstill. Others lost their loved ones, further contributing to the adverse effects associated with the pandemic. Individuals could not communicate or connect openly with others unless they complied with social isolation’s set protocols and procedures (Mattioli et al., 2020). Most people were trapped in their houses for months away from their loved ones, friends, colleagues, and normalcy. The majority lived without going out, considering everything was shut down except for essential services. The Maslow theory of human motivation can examine and further understand how the pandemic psychologically affected people. Unfortunately, it was challenging to meet these needs outlined in theory, including essential needs such as food, water, and fresh air. It was also challenging to guarantee the safety of all individuals as no one was safe from the pandemic (Serafini et al., 2020). The uncertainty of when the pandemic will come to an end further contributed to the adverse effects associated with the pandemic.
The impact of the pandemic on the mental health of people
According to Hampshire et al. (2021), the effects of the pandemic psychological health and wellbeing of the people are significant public health issues. Some of them are short time and likely to have a short-term impact on people, while others are long-time, meaning that they will affect people for an extended period of time. In the early stages of the pandemic, the measures put in place by the United Kingdom government limited the access and provision of National Health Services (NHS) mental services (Jaspal, 2021). Support from other sources is also under increased pressure considering that much of the available resources were diverted to flattening the curve and curbing the spread of the infection. Charities, which were the leading alternative NHS mental health services, reported increased demand along with loss of funding which would have increased accessibility to these services.
Information and data from multiple sources show how the demand for services changed over the course of the pandemic, with more and more individuals seeking mental health services than ever before. According to reports from the U.K. government, effects can be attributed to the wider impact on society, with research showing a direct connection and relationship between the infection and the brain. The most vulnerable populations with a higher risk of developing mental health challenges included young adults, women, and those with pre-existing mental health conditions (Wu et al., 2020). Additionally, mental health inequalities have witnessed an increase by the pandemic forcing the NHS to reorganize mental health services to provide substantial amounts of care only to match the increasing demand for care.
Although studies on how the pandemic affects the brain and mental health are ongoing, diagnosed mental and neurological disorders were significantly more common during the pandemic. National statistics in the U.K suggest that a high number of patients and individuals reported symptoms of depression (25%) and anxiety (17%), even with those with milder infection (Wu et al., 2020). Notably, increased rates of post-traumatic stress disorders were reported in those needing higher intensity medical treatment throughout the country, including inpatients with and without ventilation. Depression is one of the leading forms of mood disorder characterized by endless sadness and loss of interest in interesting or seemed to be normal before. However, it significantly differs from mood change and fluctuations common among most individuals. Notably, notable life events such as loss of employment, loss of loved ones, and living in isolation can increase the risk of depression (Banerjee et al., 2020).
On the other hand, anxiety is an emotion mainly characterized by extensive feelings of tension, worried thoughts, and physical changes such as a sharp increase in blood pressure. Anxiety is widely regarded as a normal and healthy emotion, considering that it helps an individual be careful or avoid danger. However, when an individual often feels disproportionate degrees of anxiety, it becomes a medical condition. The leading causes of anxiety that can be associated with the pandemic are environmental stressors such as isolation and uncertainty associated with the pandemic (Burn & Mudholkar, 2020). Finally, post-traumatic stress disorder is a psychological health issue that terrifying events can trigger. According to studies, the scale of the pandemic concerning cases, the number of countries affected, and the number of deaths left the impression that all people have equal risk and opportunity of developing this condition. With the media mainly focusing on the number of deaths, this was a terrifying ordeal for children, young adults, and adults who have never witnessed such a global event.
Over two years since the pandemic was discovered in China, it is evident that it has affected different people in different ways at different times. One of the main mental health issues reported throughout and after the pandemic was depression and anxiety, especially at the pandemic. According to statistics by GP-held electronic health records suggested that in April 2020, the prevalence of depression had reduced by 43% as people came into terms with the pandemic and devised ways through which they could live with the pandemic (Ekezie et al., 2020). Similarly, anxiety had reduced by 48% and the first antidepressants prescription by approximately 36% in the U.K. People realized that the pandemic was here to stay (Ekezie et al., 2020). The only way to address it was by designing the mechanism that would allow them to cope. Instead of treating the condition, the depression and prevalence levels had normalized by September 2020.
Another mental health issue that was significantly reported throughout the pandemic was self-harm and suicidal ideation. This was particularly among individuals who lost their jobs and loved ones. This made them feel that they had nothing to live for, which significantly increased the feeling of loneliness, increasing the risk of self-harm. According to reports from the U.K. government, people expected the pandemic to end as quickly as it had spread globally (Frissa & Dessalegn, 2020). Unfortunately, this was not the case as one year since it was first discovered, people were still living in isolation. This had a mental toll on most of the population. The uncertainty surrounding it pushed others to the edge. Although the U.K. did not experience any surge in cases of self, harm other regions and countries such as Japan reported an increase in the number of suicides during the pandemic. According to the current studies, the link is associated with the pandemic and recession. The international community shut down the global economy was the driving force for increased suicide rates and risks among most individuals and communities (Hampshire et al., 2021). Studies in the U.K. Suggested that until February 2021, the most significant contribution to self-harm thoughts and behavior during the pandemic was physical or psychological abuse, especially domestic violence for those who went to isolation together.
Although suicide ideas in the U.K did not change during the pandemic, the office for national statistics reported that the general psychological and mental health of the people in the country was at its lowest since the government started collecting data in 2011. Almost 50% of the people in the country reported that the pandemic was affecting their holistic health and wellbeing. Youths, children, and those with cases of mental health issues reported higher levels of loneliness considering that they could not go out to play or interact with their peers. Statistics from this office suggested that loneliness among most citizens rose from 10% in March 2020 to approximately 26% in February 2021, substantially underlining how the pandemic had affected the holistic health and wellbeing of people in the country (Jaspal & Lopes, 2021). The most vulnerable communities as identified by the U.K. government included young adults, women, minority and ethnic communities, those living alone or with children, those with pre-existing mental conditions, and clinically vulnerable individuals and communities.
Results and discussion
Understanding of the pandemic
According to Saltzman et al. (2020), since the pandemic, multiple industries, value chains, and trading activities globally collapsed because of the fear of transmitting the infection. The shutdown meant that most individuals lost their only source of income, which was the trigger for stress, depression, and fear. The South Asian community in the United Kingdom was not exceptional. It firsthand witnessed the pandemic and how it can affect people’s health and quality of life, as revealed by B.A, one of the study’s interviewees. B.A, who is a lecturer and a Ph.D. student, suggests that:
“Well, covid was something…well hit us all in a very unique way because it was nothing that the world expected, because obviously if you look back into history, yes, there have been many… erm not pandemics I would say but many diseases that kind of you know took over the world. But like you say, it was history, you know you did not imagine that the world would see something like that again and it is still… I know it has become a norm now to wear a mask, but if you sometimes have a flashback of what life was like in 2019, we were like, what… you know, what are we doing? We are just, you know, restricted by many rules and regulations.”
He echoes and supports the feeling of most people in the U.K and globally that although people know the history of other global pandemics such as Hispanic influenza, it was traumatizing and shocking to witness its destruction and impact on populations. It was nothing like what most people expected. Within a few months, it had spread from China to the rest of the world. It spread faster than world fires, making it impossible for the global health care system to provide the right medical care to minimize if not reduce its spread and transmission (Jaspal, 2021). During the pandemic, it was impossible to see people without masks, and hand hygiene became a norm in most families as individuals and people strived to reduce transmission and transfer. Lack of information and knowledge of the disease made it challenging for people to understand how to conduct and carry themselves, significantly increasing their mental health. Since this was a new virus that had never been witnessed before, even experts such as pathologists had little or no information concerning the disease and how to prevent it (Jaspal, 2021).
Even with the lockdown in place, there was still significant uncertainty about the future due to the number of deaths reported and increased transmission. As G.S explains, when people heard about the virus, they were shocked and did not know to protect themselves, especially when the infection cases and deaths increased. After the lockdown was announced, people hoped it would only last for a few weeks (Mattioli et al., 2020). Unfortunately, this turned into months, adversely affecting individual mental health. Originally members of this community were worried, but they learned how to live with it and cope with its adverse impacts as they learned more about it, as G.S puts it.
“Uhm.., when I first heard about it, it was a bit like, oh, this is new. It’s like taking over the world a little bit, but as time went on, I wasn’t as bothered because I felt like overtime. It’s just kind of been normalized, and it’s a lot like a normal cold now. So I think the initial, like worry at first it’s not here anymore.”
The positive and negative impact of the COVID-19 on the Asian community in the U.K
Based on the responses from the study participants, the pandemic has had different impacts on different people in this community. Some feel that quarantine and lockdown were good to them, and others believe that the lockdown adversely affected their lives, especially holistic health (Mia & Griffiths, 2021). For example, S.B., a university student, suggested that he was okay with the government implementing the lockdown because it provided him with the time and space to be alone and reflect on his life. He further suggests that he did not want the first lockdown to be lifted
“I was fine. That’s what that’s what I mean. It’s because I came home and I’d be in by myself. Yeah, it was, really. It was really refreshing to me. I was fine with it because I’m not very social in the sense that I don’t really. I didn’t want it to be lifted. I think… I think I got… I became so accustomed to just being in the house, and then I’d also spent the whole time at the university by myself.”
However, some believe that the pandemic adversely affected the quality of their lives. They suggest that the pandemic and the government’s decision to lockdown the economy and any kind of movement and interactions made it impossible to exploit any opportunities they thought they would have. They also suggest that the first lockdown affected their mental health, considering they were isolated (Misra et al., 2020). This created monotony and repetition, considering that they would do the same things repeatedly, which was irritable. Most people did not have support because of the lockdown. They had to find ways to survive on their own. This not only made them sad but made them angry because they did not understand for how long they could live in isolation. By the time the second lockdown was announced, the general public already had a taste of its negative impact and knew what to do to get support, making it easier for them to access the much-needed mental health services through technology and the web (Misra et al., 2020). According to B.A, the lockdown was traumatizing because it was impossible to see or interact with other family members.
“That was a bit traumatizing. Uhm, merely because you could not see your family. You were so afraid of passing the disease to your loved ones. That you stopped seeing them. So, I distinctly remember that I was a new mum, so my son was born in ((DOB)), and the pandemic started in February. It was quite lonely, but I think what got through… what… what helped everybody, and I can… I think I can speak for everyone here. It’s just technology. We were in touch with each other and through WhatsApp video calling, and you know that was really good.”
Her sentiments are fully supported and echoed by G.S, a university student. He believed that the pandemic and the lockdown created an unconducive environment for people to grow and thrive. Instead of exploring new opportunities and experiencing new challenges that could change individual lives, people were forced to do the same thing repeatedly. This was boring, but it also created a mental toll on them, psychologically and mentally affecting him. Those who were isolated from their families had the much-needed social support to overcome the challenges of the pandemic and the lockdown (Saladino et al., 2020). Although families and friends could not provide professional counseling or psychological help, being with friends helped them overcome stress, depression, PTSD, and any mental pressure that would have jeopardized their mental health. When the government announced the second lockdown, most people were angry because they had hoped that things were finally normalized. G.S suggests that he was relieved
“U.M.? Every day was pretty much the same, and it was very repetitive. I found myself getting really irritable over things, a bit lonely as well because you are always just in the house 24/7, so it just limits you to what you can do really, and… yeah, that was. It was a bit irritable and like lonely, but it was quite like… sad because like I said, it just changed my life and where I was once like going out and seeing my friends going out, seeing my family I couldn’t do that so it took a lot of that away.”
These feelings were supported by P.K, a university student who was in his final year. He suggests that when the pandemic hit the world and the global lockdown was announced, like most people, he thought that it would only last for a few days and everything would return to normal. Unfortunately, this was not the case. He believes that the pandemic adversely affected his academic achievements considering that he graduated two years later, missing great opportunities. He suggests that the uncertainties created by the pandemic significantly affected the quality of life and mental health of members of this community. He suggests that he was happy for the pandemic to be lifted, as it meant that he could continue with education and perform activities out of his house.
“I was in my final year of university at the time, and I was doing my examinations, and my dissertation and all that sort of stuff were put on hold or extent, or I got extensions to do it, and I kind of missed out… I missed out on my graduation, and I still haven’t got it because of COVID. And just now, actually, I was reading a paper that my university has just sent me to do graduation this year. Two years after I’ve graduated. So, I think it’s a lot of missed opportunities. A lot of stuff had to be stopped because of it, and that was kind of sad, but at the same time, it was what needed to be done. I was… well, I was happy that lockdown was lifted because we could leave the house again and actually do things. I’m a very big like person that loves to go out and stuff that I love like just being at the house and having a routine.”
The main mental health issues identified during the pandemic
As noted throughout this discussion, different people developed different mental health problems during the pandemic depending on the severity of the adverse effects they encountered and experienced. Considering that people would be in their houses 24/7, it affected their mental health, which in turn influenced their sleeping patterns, physical level, eating patterns, anxiety, and ability to handle pressure. In some cases, individuals found it challenging to sleep at night, especially when people slept the whole night. Sleeping late at night affects an individual ability to wake up early the following day or perform any meaningful duties, further affecting individual mental and holistic health (Saltzman et al., 2020). Like in the case of G.S, it was challenging and mentally draining to remain indoors, considering that he is an outgoing person. This affected his mental health, especially regarding sleeping patterns, further affecting his mental wellbeing. Despite the best efforts to remain physically fit and active, it was impossible to maintain mental health. He would sometimes overthink about the disease and life in general, making it impossible to shut down at night.
“Um, I’d say my sleep was different because obviously being in the house 24/7 and does affect your mental health, and then that obviously affects how you sleep. So some nights, I found myself being really, what the word, I dunno, I just couldn’t shut off. I’d struggle to shut off at night. So then it would take me a while to get to sleep, and then when I woke up in the morning, it used to take me ages to get out of bed.”
S.B is quick to note that “Uhm, sleeping has been the worst one I think because, I’m already like a sleepy person all the time and then not having to be anywhere, not having the pressure to be anywhere, I wasn’t… I’d literally be sleeping in.” Further underlining the negative impact of the pandemic and how it can affect individual mental health.
P.K notes that “I feel like my sleeping and eating habits have gone downhill. I feel like that’s the standard for everyone, though. Uh, my sleeping patterns have just been all over the place because when you’re at home all the time, you can sleep during the day.”
These sentiments were seconded by B. A., who explained that the pandemic significantly affected her mental health, especially regarding physical levels, eating behaviors, and sleep patterns during the COVID pandemic. Considering most people spent most of their time within and in their homes, it was impossible to control their eating patterns. Spending much time in the house meant that most people at more than they would love (Serafini et al., 2020). Few physical exercises led to a significant increase in weight, one of the environmental triggers of mental health issues. However, those around themselves had a significant impact on their mental health. Notably, those quarantined with their families had a lower risk of developing mental issues. However, those quarantined with young children and young adults had a higher risk of developing mental health issues such as depression and stress, considering that they spent most of their time taking care of them (Serafini et al., 2020). Although they were proud of helping their children overcome this difficult period, it was a burden as they neglected as most of their time was dedicated to serving others. It also meant that parents could not get personal space to relax and refresh, as B. A. puts it.
“My physical health was okay. I gained a bit of weight. But that was kind of mandatory, I think, because there was no physical exercise and it’s not even the fact that you couldn’t go outside for a walk. It’s the fact that you didn’t want it to. Taking care of family means little or no time to take care of oneself because it does make you feel sad, and it makes you… it makes you feel neglected, but only you can’t blame anybody. You are neglecting yourself. So I believe when the pandemic was kind of not, well, no, because still not over.”
S.B supports these views by suggesting that “Well, I mean. While I’m at home, eating has been fine because my mum has, you know, a schedule that she’s on, I think I mean when I’m at university, I generally don’t eat throughout the day ’cause I just don’t get hungry.”
P.K reports that “And eating wise, eating patterns are all over the place. Junk food, a lot of junk food put on weight. But in terms of… Physical levels also have been up and down, to be honest. In the first lockdown, I was just like, let’s eat all the junk food in the world, and then I was like okay, let’s do some exercise, and then I got up the weights, and I did some exercise and started eating healthy. And then I’ve gone downhill again with my eating habits.”
Based on the current literature and interview results, paranoia is another adverse effect of the pandemic on most individuals’ mental health during the lockdown. This is the irrational and persistent feeling that individuals are out to get themselves, or one is a subject of constant, intrusive attention by others. This unfounded mistrust of others makes it challenging for individuals to function socially or cultivate and maintain close relationships (Wu et al., 2020). If not immediately and carefully addressed, it develops a feeling of loneliness, further contributing to mental health problems for most individuals. Patients struggling with this condition believe that no one understands them, and it can be challenging to remain in close relationships with others when one does not trust others or does not believe that they have their best interest at heart. Although it was not one of the leading mental health issues during the pandemic among this community, if not treated, it can jeopardize a person’s mental health (Wu et al., 2020,).
This was the case for S.B., who was not only overthinking about the effects of the pandemic or the future but how his family had split during the pandemic. Like many people in this community, they spent most of their time during the pandemic to themselves, thinking how things have changed, messed up and how best to improve their lives once the pandemic was over and everything was back to normal. Unfortunately, the health care system in the country was already stretched, making it challenging for such patients to access NHS mental health services. As he notes,
“… I became so paranoid as a person, and I wouldn’t do anything, and I was so self-aware of everything. I just stopped doing everything, so I had to do life coaching because I was just stuck in this kind of vicious cycle of, you know, being in the lockdown, thinking about everything by myself and then nothing to break it up.”
As P.K notes, the pandemic has not been easy and has had significant moments that can shape individual lives. He believes that it has affected every aspect of human life, as evident from the statement that “I feel like it’s been an up and down journey. U.M., mentally, physically, emotionally, there’s been a lot. It’s been not easy. But I feel like we’ve all come out the other end where we are trying to come out the other end stronger, aren’t we? And we’re trying our best with this. It’s all we can do.”
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