Written by Emily King
A year ago, did you think you would spend most of 2020 getting away from loved ones and wearing masks in public? For most people, dealing with a global pandemic was not on their plans. You are expected to go through negative feelings like stress, disappointment, and loneliness.
However, for a growing portion of the population, mental health issues like anxiety, depression, and other issues have made it very difficult for normal day-to-day functioning. We spoke with Julie Palmer, a certified nurse practitioner (CRNP) at the Washington Health System to discuss the growing number of mental health issues during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“At first it was not clear, but as the pandemic faltered it became more evident. People who had not previously needed psychiatric treatment presented for assessment and treatment of psychiatric symptoms, ”says Palmer.
Anxiety, depression and drug addiction are the most common problems. But Palmer also sees people experiencing grief, loneliness, and even obsessive-compulsive disorder. Even those who were already undergoing treatment for mental health problems experience an increase in symptoms.
“Stress is usually something that can exacerbate the symptoms of those who are already being treated for mental health problems. The loneliness and sense of isolation that many experience with the lifestyle changes associated with the pandemic is certainly contributing to it, ”notes Palmer.
Anyone can have mental health issues, but it appears that certain groups of people are affected at a higher rate. Health care workers, other essential workers, children and the elderly are more vulnerable to these problems for a variety of reasons. Perhaps one of the most affected populations are young adults, who experience higher suicide rates.
If you are experiencing symptoms of anxiety, depression, or any other mental health problem, your first priority is to discuss them with your doctor. They can help you explore your options which may include counseling, medication, and / or lifestyle changes. Beyond that, there are a lot of things you can do to ease feelings of stress and loneliness.
- Follow CDC guidelines like social distancing and wearing masks. These actions can make you feel like you have some control over the health of others and over yourself.
- Exercise can make all the difference in your mood. Taking care of yourself physically is so important for mental health. Exercise, eat well, and get enough sleep.
- Limit the amount of news and social media you consume. Focus on the facts.
- Find creative ways to get social. Form online book club with friends, take virtual fitness class, organize video chats with family.
- Get out as much as you can. When it feels like your whole world has changed, it’s a good reminder that nature remains the same.
- Take advantage of new hobbies that you can focus on to get rid of everything else.
- Contact your family and friends for support.
One of the most important things we can do as a society is to reduce the stigma of mental illness.
“I think the more people who are willing to discuss mental health issues as they would other health issues like blood pressure, the less shameful or embarrassing it will be,” says Palmer. People might be more likely to ask for help.
If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest hospital. Otherwise, contact your GP to start the conversation.
WHS Physician Referral Line (724) 250-4310