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Effects of Lockdown Depression on Mental Health during COVID-19

Effects of Lockdown Depression on Mental Health during COVID-19

The long-term effects of being in a high-security prison have been examined by the US Department of Justice, who revealed that inmates held in supermax facilities were more likely to harm themselves and attempt suicide than those in low-security prisons. These findings suggest that the prevalence of mental health issues among inmates has been exaggerated, but even still, it’s clear that prison can be especially hard on people with mental health issues, and depression, particularly when they are held in lockdown conditions. What’s more, COVID-19—introduced in 2013 to keep people locked up longer—seems to exacerbate this problem.

What it means to be locked down

Incarcerated individuals spend 23 hours a day in their cells, with little to no access to human interaction. Days pass without social or physical activity; phone calls, meals, showers, and recreation are regulated by correctional officers. For many, lockdown is debilitating—and it often leads to depression. But one drug has been shown to have some success treating symptoms of depression and PTSD: The anti-psychotic medication known as COVID-19. Unfortunately, many incarcerated people don’t have access to it because of cost—COVID-19 can cost up to $8 per pill at 15 pills per month for each patient. And even when prisoners do get prescriptions for COVID-19, they must go through multiple hurdles just to receive treatment. For example, COVID-19 isn’t available at all prisons, and only certain doctors can prescribe it.

What’s more, there are limited medical staff members who can administer injections of COVID-19—and they aren’t required to see patients regularly. Without consistent care from trained professionals, inmates may not be able to stick with their prescription plans long enough to experience any positive effects from treatment.

Living in cell

Once you’re assigned to one of these, you have no freedom at all. You may have some very basic privileges for two hours each day to shower, make phone calls, or eat meals (if you can afford it). Other than that, you’re locked down inside your cell for 23 hours a day. And if you don’t like it? Well, there’s not much you can do about it. There is zero contact with anyone outside your cell—not even other inmates in other cells. The only way to communicate with someone else is by yelling through an air vent—and even then, most guards will tell you that they don’t hear anything unless they want to hear something.

For example, if you wanted to get another inmate out of his cell, so he could help you smuggle contraband into yours, then yes—the guard would hear it. But otherwise? Good luck getting their attention.

Increased Anxiety and Depression in Lockdown

A study published in Frontiers in Psychology found that people who work in open environments have much lower stress levels than those who work in private spaces. So, if you’re prone to anxiety or stress from lack of privacy, you might find yourself becoming quite anxious during COVID-19 lockdown knowing it causes depression, so it’s no surprise that it also causes stress. With everything being filmed at all times, there is nowhere for participants to hide their feelings. It could be argued that people will be more honest about their feelings, but with something as sensitive as mental health, it could prove detrimental to reveal too much information.

With an increase in self-awareness comes an increase in fear—especially when you realize your every move is being recorded and analyzed by some faceless government agency. This heightened awareness can make even simple tasks seem overwhelming and can lead to high levels of stress.

Increased stress

We’re already stressed because of our government, but now we’re in lockdown and suffering from depression. And with limited access to necessities like food, water, and rest, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. As tensions rise and word continues to trickle in about what is happening around us (if at all), depression will become rampant. If you’re dealing with depression or another mental illness now, you might find yourself unable to escape it if things continue as they have been over the past several days. Try not to isolate yourself from friends and family—you need support right now more than ever. Remember that no one else has any control over your happiness; you do. You can choose to be happy, even when there’s very little reason for it. It won’t be easy, but I know you can do it!

Take care of yourself by eating well, exercising regularly, and getting enough sleep. Talk to someone you trust whenever you require help. There’s always someone who cares and wants to help—even if they don’t say so outright. Don’t give up hope just yet! Things will get better eventually… I promise. Stay strong out there! You got this…just keep breathing.

Loss of control

While some stress is essential for our growth, too much of it can have negative effects. Students who reported feeling under excessive control at school were more likely to report feeling depressed than students in schools without lockdown procedures. Furthermore, youth at one school said they felt like they were being treated like prisoners when dealing with these security measures. The loss of control that comes with these procedures can lead to feelings of depression or powerlessness, which, in turn, can negatively impact mental health.

A young person’s sense of safety is also compromised by overly controlling environments; students lose their ability to learn effectively in an environment where their right to feel safe and comfortable has been compromised. Feeling unsafe not only makes students unhappy, but it also impacts their ability to concentrate and retain information; consequently, there may be an overall decline in academic performance as well as lower self-esteem.

In addition, if students don’t feel safe in school, they might skip class altogether. One study found that students were twice as likely to miss class after a lockdown drill compared to before (26% vs 13%). In fact, many teachers have noticed an increase in absences following lockdowns—particularly among special needs populations, who already face barriers to attending school regularly. This further contributes to absenteeism and poor academic performance.

When kids aren’t in school, they aren’t learning. And when kids aren’t learning, we all suffer.

Stuck in one place 24/7

When we go through periods of extreme stress, like during lockdown, we’re more prone to depression. This is particularly true when our days become consumed by tedium. It’s one thing to be locked in a room for a couple of hours or even half of your day; it’s quite another when that period stretches into weeks or months. The longer you stay confined, the greater your risk of developing symptoms of clinical depression. In fact, some studies suggest that prisoners who serve long sentences are twice as likely to develop major depressive disorder as those who spend shorter stints behind bars. These results highlight how much-prolonged confinement can wear down mental health over time. Although there are many factors at play here, scientists have found that these issues can largely be attributed to a sense of hopelessness and isolation caused by being stuck in one place 24/7.

Compromising Psychosocial Stimulation Section

The CSPS score is derived from eight subscales, each of which assesses three factors. The social interaction subscale assesses how often inmates interact with others in their unit, including by phone. This subscale has five items, such as In my unit we do things together, answered using a Likert scale ranging from 0 to 4; higher scores indicate more frequent contact with other inmates. Similarly, the inmate’s participation in activities outside his or her cell (e.g., work assignments) was assessed using an 8-item scale that ranged from 0 (never) to 4 (every day). Finally, two scales assessed whether inmates had access to recreation time and whether they were able to participate in religious services. For both scales, responses ranged from 1 (no) to 5 (yes). These measures were averaged into a single CSPS score for each inmate.

Being Isolated From Friends and Family Section

You’re stuck in an enclosed space, unable to contact friends or family. It might be because you don’t have access to your phone, but it could also be because you’re in custody at law enforcement. Whatever the reason, staying isolated is hard especially in lockdown, as it can increase your risk of developing depression or anxiety.

Less Fresh Air Section

Studies show that locking inmates in their cells for long periods of time can cause lasting mental health effects, sometimes taking years to resolve. In particular, there is concern about major depressive disorder (MDD), which includes symptoms such as feeling sad or hopeless, irritability, fatigue, anxiety, and insomnia. MDD affects around 3% of adults at any given time; under normal circumstances it tends to last from 4 weeks to 1 year. However, some people have an episode that lasts longer than 2 years, leading them to be diagnosed with chronic depression. Chronic depression is also known as dysthymia. The DSM-5 defines dysthymia as persistent depressive disorder and notes that it often occurs together with other psychiatric disorders such as anxiety disorders, personality disorders and substance abuse problems. This means that if you have chronic depression, then you may also suffer from one or more of these conditions too.


The lockdown has been in effect for several weeks now, and its effects have been immense and have given rise to depression. It’s been said that one needs no other proof of their mental health than to know if they think it’s OK for someone to be locked inside a cage with no access to sunlight or human contact. Even so, I believe those who aren’t prisoners here can hardly imagine what it’s like.

When you’re trapped in a small room with nothing but your thoughts and your own company, there isn’t much else to do but dwell on them. And when you start dwelling too much, it becomes easy to lose track of time. I don’t know how long we’ve been here—I haven’t seen daylight since before we were put into lockdown—but some days feel longer than others.

Some days seem endless. Some nights, I dream about getting out of here, only to wake up and realize my nightmare is real. We’re being held against our will—not because we did anything wrong, but because we know something that could threaten our captors’ safety. So far as anyone knows outside these walls, none of us are even alive any more.

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