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Mental Health Crisis: Hoarding Behavior, Joblessness, and Racism

Coronavirus, a disease that causes respiratory illness, has been causing widespread fear and worry across many nations. More resources are being allocated towards medical services for coronavirus relief efforts, whereas the issue of mental health is in some ways downplayed in this period of mass hysteria. The problem with understating the importance of addressing mental health during the pandemic is that our fears and anxieties should be acknowledged, rather than pushed away.

The pandemic brings with it a host of problems such as unemployment, grief, hoarding behaviors, and a unique pain felt by each individual. Organizations, such as the World Health Organization (WHO), stress the need to provide psychological crisis interventions for people affected by the “mental” pandemic. This includes patients, relatives of patients, and health care professionals. This paper will attempt to identify both the indirect and direct impact of the coronavirus epidemic on mental health, and what possible steps we should take next.

Hoarding Behavior Affects Access to Much-needed Supplies

Hoarding behavior seems to be linked to the inability to tolerate uncertainty, and while it seems that buying a lot toilet paper during the pandemic is not considered extreme hoarding behavior, the psychological mechanisms that drive it are similar (Norberg & Rucker, 2020). Studies have shown support for the scarcity attraction relationship, which is the idea that the more difficult it is to acquire an item, the more value it has (Suri et al., 2007). Seeing empty shelves of basic necessities on the news and firsthand in stores may drive stocks up make individuals buy it when they get the chance.

According to Damian Fowler in “Unemployment during coronavirus: The psychology of job loss”, millions of people have lost their jobs due to the coronavirus and are vulnerable to mental health problems. During the Great Recession, financial issues predicted changes in the occurrence of psychological problems, such as anxiety, depression, panic attacks, and increased substance abuse (Forbes & Krueger, 2019). Joblessness could bring about feelings of helplessness due to the perceived lack of control during the pandemic. Certain sociodemographic groups are harder hit by job loss during the pandemic, which calls for additional support for those who will be at higher risk during the foreseeable recession.

Vulnerable Population Have Worse Outcomes

Moving on, those with pre-existing mental health conditions and patient groups that are particularly at risk may be hardest hit during the coronavirus lockdown, also known as social isolation. The loss of everyday routines and sudden social withdrawal could be catastrophic for those with anxiety, depression, or obsessive compulsive tendencies. Studies have indicated that during the SARS pandemic, even after quarantine, many participants continued to engage in avoidance behaviors. For example, one study pointed out that 54% (524 people out of 1057) of those who had been quarantined tended to avoid public spaces, crowed places, and people who were coughing for many months. Alcohol abuse or dependency symptoms were positively associated with being quarantined amongst health care workers up to three years after the SARS outbreak (Brooks et al., 2020). This shows that there are long term behavioral effects of the disastrous combination of both social isolation and external stressors from the pandemic. In many ways, health-care workers are carrying the burden of tending to patients, so it is not surprising that they may require psychological care.

Now that psychiatric services have dramatically decreased, psychiatrists are faced with the problem of taking care of their patients. Many have turned to online video chatting (telemedicine) , and others are proving digital online training for mental health care professionals in order to support people coping with psychological issues. Online platforms like “HelloBetter” and free telephone hotlines are being implemented in order to help individuals affected by the pandemic. Furthermore, if we have learned from previous smaller scale pandemics like SARS and MERS, psychologists must actively plan ahead for the well-being of every group that will be impacted.


Ever since the coronavirus was first identified in China, racism and racist attacks towards the Chinese and Asian American population has dramatically increased. “Coronavirus racism” includes xenophobic reactions, such as fear, exclusion, violence, and much more. Online communities have made racist memes targeting Chinese people, and anyone who looks “Chinese” have been unfairly targeted due to their skin color. The unjust treatment that Asian Americans are receiving cannot be excused by justifying racist behaviors as an innate psychological defense mechanism. Research on the African American population shows that there are physiological and psychological impact of racism and discrimination, which makes it much more imperative to discuss ways to combat it. One study that used a multigroup structural equation model showed that an increased perceived racial discrimination from 20- 23 years old Black male youth was predictive of increased symptoms of depression and anxiety from 20-32 years old (Assari et al., 2017).

Fear Pandemic

The fear of contagion has completely changed our psychological responses to everyday situations and our behavior has become even more unpredictable. Various experiments have shown that humans become more conformist when feeling the threat of disease (Robson, 2020). For example, an interesting study conducted by the University of Hong Kong found that emotionally triggering images of pandemics was positively associated with valuing obedience and conformity over eccentricity and deviance (Wu & Chang, 2012). Another study found that unattractive faces appear more unattractive to individuals higher in pathogen disgust. During these times is it likely that psychological shifts may even change the outcome of the election, and therefore we must constantly question whether or not our thoughts are rational or the product of irrational thinking.


In all, there will be many victims during and after this world-wide pandemic. Therefore, it is even more critical for psychologists and psychiatrists alike to address these issues. The first step would be to identify the impact the pandemic has (both direct and indirect), and how it affects different groups of people. Some are more vulnerable to mental health issues depending on the situation they are currently in like health care professionals, socially isolated individuals, and the victims of racism. Furthermore, hoarding could have negative consequences for those who actually need basic necessities and understanding the psychological mechanisms behind our shopping behavior during the pandemic could help us make more rational decisions. In order to develop psychological interventions for vulnerable groups, psychologists must identify and treat the adverse psychological impacts in the general population during the coronavirus outbreak. Thankfully, psychotherapists are also turning to online services, while they are in self isolation, in order to continuously provide emotional support to patients. Telephone hotlines are also being opened as a means to guide people through difficult times. Studies with randomized placebo-controlled trials and trials conducted in naturalistic settings support the efficacy of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) as an acute intervention for anxiety related issues (Otte, 2011). The fact that officials and organizations are starting to recognize the importance of studying mental health during the current coronavirus pandemic provides hope for the role of psychology in these times.


Assari, S., Moazen-Zadeh, E., Caldwell, C. H., & Zimmerman, M. A. (2017). Racial Discrimination during Adolescence Predicts Mental Health Deterioration in Adulthood: Gender Differences among Blacks. Frontiers in Public Health, 5. doi: 10.3389/fpubh.2017.00104

Brooks, S. K., Webster, R. K., Smith, L. E., Woodland, L., Wessely, S., Greenberg, N., & Rubin, G. J. (2020). The Psychological Impact of Quarantine and How to Reduce It: Rapid Review of the Evidence. SSRN Electronic Journal. doi: 10.2139/ssrn.3532534

Forbes, M. K., & Krueger, R. F. (2019). The Great Recession and Mental Health in the United States. Clinical Psychological Science, 7(5), 900–913.

Norberg, M., & Rucker, D. (2020, March 20). Psychology can explain why coronavirus drives us to panic buy. It also provides tips on how to stop. Retrieved from

Otte C. (2011). Cognitive behavioral therapy in anxiety disorders: current state of the evidence. Dialogues in clinical neuroscience, 13(4), 413–421.

Robson, D. (2020, April 2). The fear of coronavirus is changing our psychology. Retrieved from

Suri, R., Kohli, C. & Monroe, K.B. The effects of perceived scarcity on consumers’ processing of price information. J. of the Acad. Mark. Sci. 35, 89–100 (2007).

Wu, B.-P., & Chang, L. (2012). The social impact of pathogen threat: How disease salience influences conformity. Personality and Individual Differences, 53(1), 50–54. doi: 10.1016/j.paid.2012.02.023

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