The Mental Health Impacts of COVID-19: We’re not out of the woods

Dear MSP Community,

I was recently asked to participate in a Farmington SAFE’s Community Conversation on COVID and Mental Health, along with several health care experts and public service officials. Given all the information already publicly available about maintaining mental health during the pandemic, I decided to focus on what many are predicting – that we are just beginning to see the long-term mental health effects of what we’ve experienced. But what does that really mean?

The outlook is concerning. Four in 10 adults, down from 1 in 10 pre-pandemic, are experiencing raised levels of anxiety and depression. Increases in substance abuse, domestic violence, sleep disturbance, chronic medical conditions, and difficulty with concentration have also been reported. And scientists are now researching the effect of COVID-19 on the brain for those who contracted the disease and those who did not.

It’s easy to understand why these mental health issues are on the rise. Isolation, fear, and overload of news and information (often conflicting) are at the top of the list. Couple that with financial concerns, caregiving difficulties and changes in work demands and you have a perfect storm. The blending of work, school, and home environments has changed household dynamics in ways most of us could not have imagined.

For 10 to 15% of the population, life will not return to normal due to the impact on mental wellbeing. Many will be plagued with long-term anxiety, and impacts on mental health are likely to last much longer than those on physical health. Joshua C. Morganstein of the Centre for the Study of Traumatic Stress warns, “Historically, the adverse mental health effects of disasters impact more people and last much longer than the health effects. If history is any predictor, we should expect a significant ‘tail’ of mental health needs that continue long after the infectious outbreak resolves.”

So what do those of us in mental health practice need to know? We can expect a worsening of Generalized Anxiety Disorder for people who already suffer from any type of anxiety.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) can be exacerbated for those who have contamination obsessions and cleaning compulsions. Isolation can lead some to the desire to permanently detach from the outside world. Past trauma related to serious illness and death will likely be triggered. And increased depression due to joblessness and loss of income is already occurring.

So there’s a tough road ahead. As we help our clients through these issues, we need to take care of ourselves. Never has our work been so important, and the need for self-care so great. This quote from Katie Reed is a good one, “Self-care is giving the world what’s best of you, instead of what’s left of you.” I hope you’ll take time to do the things you love.

In community,

Dr. Brown

Sources

Children’s mental health: What to know a year into the pandemic. (2021, May 25). USA Today. https://www.usatoday.com/picture-gallery/life/health-wellness/2021/03/25/childrens-mental-health-a-year-into-the-pandemic-and-going-forward/115570254/

Conway Medical Center. https://www.conwaymedicalcenter.com/

Savage, M. (2020, October). Coronavirus: The possible long-term mental health impacts. BBC. https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20201021-coronavirus-the-possible-long-term-mental-health-impacts

The Recovery Village. https://www.therecoveryvillage.com/

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