The Mental Health Pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic is real, and you can only do your part to protect yourself by wearing masks, social distancing, limiting social outings, washing hands frequently, disinfecting surfaces, taking vitamins, and keeping your body healthy. However, there is another pandemic that is hitting hard: The Mental Health Pandemic. It’s completely different, affects children and adults, and it’s on the rise.
As a clinical psychotherapist, I see an increase in anxiety and depression amongst both children and adults. I am also seeing past traumas resurfacing, grief, and an increase in the suicide rates. This is alarming, to say the least.
Prior to COVID-19, rates of anxiety and depression in the United States were high and among the most common mental health disorders. A July 2020 study by the CDC indicated that prior to COVID, 15% of US adults had anxiety, and 18.5% of US adults had depression. Since COVID, those numbers have spiked to 30% for adults with anxiety and 24% for adults with depression. The numbers for children with anxiety before COVID were 7.1.%, and children with depression was 3.2%. Since COVID, these numbers have escalated to 43.7.% for children with anxiety and 22.3% for children with depression.
COVID brought about a magnitude of changes to how we live each day. Our entire daily routines have been disrupted. Many people are working from home, have been laid off from a job, or lost their jobs. Many are in financial stress. Children are participating in hybrid schooling- some days with virtual learning and other days with in-person learning. We hear rumors in the news that there could be another shutdown, lockdown, businesses closing, schools could shut down.
In a split second, our lives changed dramatically with the outbreak of COVID, contributing to a pervasive sense of uncertainty, feeling unsafe, loss, anxiety, depression, lack of control, worry, fear, grief, and isolation for many.
As humans, we thrive on routine. This keeps us feeling safe. Most of us wake up at the same time each day, have the same morning routine, the same route to drive to work, go to school, etc. Imagine if your alarm didn’t go off one morning. It would probably throw your whole morning off, or even the whole day.
Here are a few tips to change your brain chemistry to reduce anxiety and depression:
Exercise — move your body every day.
Get outside for fresh air, sunshine, and vitamin D
Eat healthy- fruits, vegetables, lean protein, nuts, cheese.
Drink water- hydrate your body.
Create a consistent daily routine
Spend time in nature
Listen to music
Get at least 8 hours of sleep.
Also, in the rise is grief and loss. Grief from the way our life was before COVID. We are grieving the loss of social outings, loss of gatherings with friends and relatives, loss of ‘traditional’ schooling, loss of jobs, loss of connections with others.
There are 5 stages of grief that Elisabeth Kübler-Ross identifies in her 1969 book, On Death and Dying.
1. Denial: This is usually the first reaction to learning about a situation, change, or loss. “This can’t be happening; this can’t be true.” It’s a normal reaction to rationalize our overwhelming emotions.
2. Anger: As the denial begins to fade, you may feel anger towards the situation. Anger that you have to home school our children, anger that businesses have closed, anger because you may be struggling financially.
3. Bargaining: The normal reaction to feelings of helplessness and vulnerability is often a need to regain control through a series of “If only” statements, such as: “If only I had saved money, I could have been prepared for this financial distress.”
4. Depression: The initial changes may bring about feelings of extreme sadness about the way things were before COVID. This could result in isolation from others, changes in sleep and appetite, suicidal thoughts, loneliness, lack of motivation, not enjoying the things you once found pleasurable.
5. Acceptance: Accepting that you can’t control the situation and allowing yourself to be resilient and adapt to the changes. Look for the silver lining in this pandemic. Has it brought you closer to your family? Have you realized that you can work from home more often?
People who are experiencing grief or loss do not necessarily go through the stages in the same order or experience all of them. It’s important to recognize how you feel emotionally in regards to anxiety, depression, and the grief cycle. If these feelings persist, or if you are having difficulty functioning on a daily basis or have suicidal thoughts, you should contact your local mental health practitioner or your doctor.
*Published in Brainz Magazine November 27, 2020.