Social distancing, self-isolation, and telecommuting may put a financial and social strain on society, compounding Finns' traditional worries, experts have warned.
“We have understood that this is a major health and economic risk, but I fear that the social aspect could be the most difficult. Isolation, alcohol, and the national Finnish character are a problematic equation”, Helsinki Mayor Jan Vapaavuori told national broadcaster Yle.
Vapaavuori's take was shared by Harri Seppälä, substance abuse medical chief at healthcare provider Terveystalo. Largely remaining inside one's four walls is also a risk factor for increased alcohol consumption.
“Normal social life is on hold, and social controls are gone. Even people who have no substance abuse problems might drink more. Especially for people who are already on the risk threshold for alcohol abuse, the journey to substance abuse is significantly higher than for moderate users”, Seppälä warned.
Sepplä noted that while many alcohol abusers are socially functional, a state of emergency could upset this frail balance.
“The social control you have at the workplace is not present during remote work, so colleagues or bosses don't see what shape you're in. In the evening you might consume more than you planned, thinking that it wouldn't matter in the morning”, he explained.
Finns are renowned drinkers, which is reflected in idioms such as 'kalsarikänni' which literally means "drinking at home, alone, in your underwear". The phenomenon has gained international traction and has been anglicised as "päntsdrunk".
Seppälä also warned about the aftershocks of the economic crisis.
“If there is a lot of unemployment and bankruptcies, it will absolutely be reflected in people not doing well. It could be a tough situation if public finances that were not in great shape to begin with, were to radically worsen, while at the same time the need for different support systems and services increased”, Seppälä mused.
The NGO Mental Health Finland (Mieli) said the proportion of coronavirus-related calls to their hotline has soared from 1.3 percent to over 15 in a single month.
“People are distressed and wondering how to get through this. Some calls are from young women with anxiety. There are also younger people calling for ideas about how to pass the time in isolation”, Mieli crisis director Outi Ruishalme explained.
Ruishalme stressed that families with a record of substance abuse and mental health issues will be the most affected by the crisis, as contact with the outside world is limited, and school and hobbies have been disrupted.
As of 30 March, Finland had a confirmed 1,313 infections, 13 fatalities and 49 patients in intensive care.
The pandemic that broke out the Chinese city of Wuhan in December has now reached almost every country on Earth, infecting more than 785,000 and killing over 37,800 people worldwide. Some 165,000 have recovered from the disease. The United States, Italy, and Spain have now become the main centres of the pandemic.