The COVID-19 pandemic is taking a severe toll on our mental health.
The COVID-19 pandemic is taking a severe toll on our mental health. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) survey conducted in June 2020 found that 40% of adults in the US are now struggling with mental health or substance misuse.
That includes at least one in ten respondents who reported having seriously considered suicide over the last months. Even more troubling, these percentages are higher for people of color, young adults, caregivers, and essential workers. At the same time, many people are also experiencing pandemic fatigue.
Karestan Koenen, Professor of Psychiatric Epidemiology at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, talked with journalist Elana Gordon about building resilience during these challenging times.
How has the pandemic impacted mental health so far?
According to Professor Koenen, in addition to the pandemic, it was expected a mental health crisis. Unfortunately, the data has borne a lot of that out. There are more cases of anxiety disorders and clinical depression. Although more people may not qualify for being depressed or meet a doctor’s diagnosis, they’re experiencing some symptoms of depression, anxiety, and, in extreme cases, even thoughts of suicide.
People feel worried about getting sick. In the US, the awakening around racial justice and issues related to police brutality and recent racist attacks towards the Asian community have created a tense environment on the streets. In addition to that, there are still millions of people unemployed while stimulus benefits have run out.
What tools can be learned to be more resilient?
Depressive symptoms include feeling down, being unable to sleep, having trouble concentrating, and not getting pleasure in things you used to enjoy over days or weeks. It’s not just a temporary feeling. The mental health community broadly has tried to respond. For example, online insurance carriers moved from not covering virtual visits to doing it. That’s enabled providers to keep seeing patients from home.
The American Psychiatric Association and The American Psychological Association have put out a massive amount of resources, information, webinars, and treatments. Like Headspace, various apps have offered free memberships to help people stress less and even sleep better.
Professor Koenen assures that every part of the world is a developing country in terms of mental health.
One tool the expert has found for building resilience is yoga, which helps her relax and start a good mood her day. Another recommendation from Koenen is to use Insight Timer, a meditation app with sleep meditations, free mindfulness courses, and all kinds of tools to help you build your resilience. She also recommends getting out and exercise, whether that’s on your own or with your dog.
Finally, turning off the news, like podcasts or social media, can significantly help you feel less anxious about the current situation. Koenen says that we should take a break from everything happing around us to work on our inner self. Finding new hobbies and keeping yourself busy with things you like is also a great way to change your perspective and feel more positive. Trying to bring something into your life that feeds your souls is truly important.