Mental Health During COVID-19
Unprecedented, never-known-or-done-before is a phrase we have heard all too often in recent times. As we slowly venture out of our homes and get back to work and social places, we face a new reality. There are new socially distant and cleansing rules we need to learn. It is strange seeing everyone wearing a mask and is anxiety-producing when you see folks without them. Surely, these types of changes will take some getting used to. Most people will be diligent in efforts to minimize exposure and future outbreaks. We are all getting accustomed to the new normal way of life as we try to figure out what that looks like.
By this time, many of us are feeling uncertain for a multitude of reasons. COVID- 19 has taken a horrific toll with loss of almost 100,000 Americans, an overwhelming number to think about. There are many things to be apprehensive about – overall country-wide financial and personal economic instability, how to best take care of health and care for loved ones, what the new way of living will be after this pandemic, etc. There are, no doubt, many areas of our lives will change because of COVID-19 safety and continued outbreak control concerns. Stress is at a high level with many people dealing with all the ways our lives have changed in the past few months and moving forward.
Some experts have opined that we are in a collective state of trauma and with all trauma, there are effects that have surfaced and will continue to surface in the coming months. Karestan Koenen, PhD, a professor of psychiatric epidemiology at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, believes that we are seeing an emerging potential mental health crisis. Dr. Koenen has studied other major disasters and notes some differences with COVID-19 including the current length and likely length of this pandemic and how it has affected the whole world. He further notes that the loss of social support with physical distancing makes the effects of this pandemic more challenging as we are treading new ground.
Other public health experts have noted that large scale disasters are always almost accompanied by increases in depression, PTSD, substance use disorder including significant recurrences, anxiety, behavioral disorders and other mental health issues.
The American Psychological Association has stated that adding to the stress are inconsistent messages from our leaders. Unclear and non-scientifically based information is a serious force that drives significant tension in our communities. Knowing what to believe is hard sometimes. We are in an age of free information which has its effect on overall anxiety and confusing the credibly sourced information.
The CDC has some useful information about coping with stress related to COVID-19. Here are some of the frequent collective reactions to COVID-19:
- Concern about protecting oneself from the virus because a person or loved one is at higher risk of serious illness.
- Concern that regular medical care or community services may be disrupted due to facility closures or reductions in services and public transport closure.
- Feeling socially isolated, especially if a person lives alone or is in a community setting that is not allowing visitors because of the outbreak.
- Guilt if loved ones help them with activities of daily living or a person is unable to help a loved one who needs such help.
- Increased levels of distress are not uncommon if someone:
- Has had mental health concerns before the outbreak, such as depression.
- Live in lower-income households or have language barriers and it is more difficult to protect one’s self and loved ones.
- Experience stigma because of age, race or ethnicity, disability, or perceived likelihood of spreading COVID-19.
Everyone reacts differently to stressful situations. CDC suggests some ways to cope with stress:
- Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including social media. Hearing about the pandemic repeatedly can be upsetting.
- Take care of your body. This includes exercise and regular sleep.
- Make time to unwind. Try to do some other activities you enjoy.
- Connect with others. Talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling.
Now, more than ever, we ought to all take the time to check in with our own mental health. Coming out of quarantine and interacting with people again can cause many emotional reactions. Some reactions include:
- Mixed emotions about getting back out in public,
- Continued worry about your health and the health of loved ones,
- Stress from constant monitoring by others in many public places,
- Fears about contracting the virus,
- Fears about not being able to perform work and parenting at the same time.
Physicians and other frontline healthcare workers are particularly vulnerable to increased negative mental health effects balancing caring for others and their own and family’s well-being. Awareness of self and others is important. Communication is important. The AMA suggests some strategies for physicians and healthcare workers in coping with stress:
- Caring for yourself by intentionally using coping strategies, know what tools you can use to deal with the constant stress and use them, make time for them.
- Taking care of staff and co-workers – help them feel safe and encourage them to express any concerns.
- Taking care of patients including checking in with their mental health. Include this type of check in with every visit.
- Let patients know it is common for stress to be very high during this crisis.
- Have resources available for people who might need a referral for help.
Let us remember COVID-19 has taken its toll on everyone you meet. We hope that we can all be there for each other as best we can.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) offers a website with COVID-19 resources and information for individuals, providers, communities, and states across the country These can be found at: https://www.samhsa.gov/coronavirus
We are Susan Ramsey and Amie Goldberg, both practicing attorneys and nurses here at the Romano Law Group. Here is a little more about each of us:
Susan Ramsey is both an attorney and an RN. Ms. Ramsey’s professional experience began as a Registered Nurse in the Intensive Care Unit at Yale New Haven Hospital. While pursuing her Bachelor’s Degree, she was a counselor with the New Haven Rape Crisis Program. During her time with the Program, Ms. Ramsey counseled sexual assault survivors and performed seminars for local police departments, universities, and high schools. During her time working as a registered nurse, Ms. Ramsey decided to attend law school. Ms. Ramsey graduated from CUNY Law School, and has practiced law in several different State and Federal Courts. She is a Florida Heath Care Risk Manager and a member of the Palm Beach County Sober Home Task Force. Ms. Ramsey actively litigates cases involving catastrophic injuries and wrongful death on behalf of survivors, cases include injuries suffered by victims of professional negligence, product liability and medical negligence.
Amie Goldberg is both an attorney and a certified APRN. After completing a Bachelor of Arts Degree at Whittier College, Ms. Goldberg attended nursing school at Emory University. Ms. Goldberg’s professional experience started as a Registered Nurse at Egleston Children’s Hospital taking care of children with congenital heart disease. After a few years, she continued working in all areas of the hospital while attending Kennesaw State University on weekends in order to get her Master’s Degree in Nursing with a specialty of Primary Care Nurse Practitioner/Family Nurse Practitioner. During her time as an APRN, Ms. Goldberg decided to attend law school at St. Thomas University in Miami, Florida. Since graduating, she has mainly practiced in the areas of personal injury and worker’s compensation, fighting for the rights of injured people. Since joining the Romano Law Group, Ms. Goldberg has been the Director of the Opioid Litigation Project. Ms. Goldberg also practices in the area of medical malpractice and nursing home negligence, bringing an inside perspective and knowledge to help get justice for our clients.