Quarantine during the coronavirus outbreak may have unintended mental health consequences, but clinicians can take steps shown to lessen the impact, according to researchers from King’s College, London.

In a review of studies published last week, investigators found that quarantined individuals may be at risk of short- and long-term psychological effects including post-traumatic stress symptoms, confusion and anger. Contributing stressors included longer quarantine duration, infection fears, frustration, boredom, inadequate supplies, inadequate information, and stigma, said Samantha Brooks, Ph.D., and colleagues.

Meanwhile, lasting repercussions were less likely when patients were given a clear rationale for quarantine and information about protocols, among other measures. The researchers came to these conclusions:  

  • Information is key; people who are quarantined need to understand the situation
  • Effective and rapid communication is essential
  • Supplies (both general and medical) need to be provided
  • The quarantine period should be short and the duration should not be changed unless in extreme circumstances

While voluntary quarantine is also associated with less distress and fewer long-term complications, this is obviously not an option in cases such as the current outbreak in a Washington nursing home. In that case, an appeal to altruism — also linked to better outcomes – may be helpful, the authors said. 

“[W]hat our research highlights are the possible unintended consequences of attempts to control the spread of the [COVID-19] virus. We must be aware of these and put in place measures to lessen their impacts,” wrote Brooks.