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February 17, 2021

Mental Health and the COVID-19 Crisis

The number of Covid-19 cases recorded in the U.S. currently stands at 11 million, with over 245 thousand fatalities. As the pandemic lingers, it is placing a strain on not only the physical health but also the mental health of many Americans. As people adapt to the "new normal," involving more working from home days, social distancing protocols, and the need for more entertainment, they are facing more stress than they realize. In addition to physical health, increased attention to mental health in these uncertain times is more critical than ever. 

Financial Uncertainty and Sheltering-in-place Challenges

For employees and business owners alike, the pandemic has taken a toll on mental health due to financial uncertainties that plagued most of the year. Worrying about losing their primary income sources and a decline in consumer spending has been a constant source of anxiety and stress for many. In September 2020, 880,000 citizens filed for unemployment benefits, some of the worst numbers seen in decades. People of color, including African Americans, are disproportionately affected due to lower income levels. 

But personal finances haven't been the only source of stress this season. Separation from family, friends, and colleagues is taking a toll on people’s mental health. Zoom calls no longer suffice, as they can't replace physical intimacy. On the other hand, homeschooling has been a challenge for many parents who already wear so many hats. Feelings of helplessness and isolation can lead to higher rates of stress, anxiety, and depression. Moreover, constant attention to news of increasing Covid-19 cases causes people to feel disoriented. 

Mental Health Services are Facing a Deficit

The pandemic has increased the demand for mental health services to tackle new conditions or manage existing ones. However, there is currently a deficit of these services. Substance abuse is currently on the rise as a coping mechanism, which can affect physical health and wellbeing. 

In October, the WHO released a report covering the current state of mental health services in 130 countries. Shocking findings include the following:

  • "Over 60% reported disruptions to mental health services for vulnerable people, including children and adolescents (72%), older adults (70%), and women requiring antenatal or postnatal services (61%)."
  • "67% saw disruptions to counseling and psychotherapy, 65% to critical harm reduction services, and 45% to opioid agonist maintenance treatment for opioid dependence." 
  • "More than a third (35%) reported disruptions to emergency interventions, including those for people experiencing prolonged seizures, severe substance use withdrawal syndromes, and delirium, often a sign of an underlying medical condition."
  • "30% reported disruptions to access medications for mental, neurological, and substance use disorders." 
  • "Around three-quarters reported at least partial disruptions to school and workplace mental health services (78% and 75%, respectively)."

Caring For Your Mental Health During the Pandemic

While there isn't a one-size-fits-all solution, avoiding known stressors and speaking to an expert can be the first crucial steps in caring for your mental health during the pandemic. Video-calling apps, such as Zoom and Skype can provide access to therapists when it’s not possible to have a face-to-face consultation. Checking up on friends and family can alleviate the anxiety and mental stress that comes with all the uncertainty. Spending quality time together with loved ones by participating in group activities can dispel feelings of loneliness and isolation. According to Dr. Judy Ho, a forensic neuropsychologist, the challenge is "finding creative ways to feel connected to the people you care about and having the same feeling of togetherness and community in these unprecedented times." 

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