By Taylor Boyd
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) mental health issues are on the upswing since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020.
“Overall, 40.9 percent of 5,470 respondents who completed surveys during June reported an adverse metal or behavioral health condition,” the CDC said in a report that also suggested 30.9 percent of people who participated in the survey reported symptoms of anxiety disorder or depressive disorder. That increase includes “those who reported having started or increased substance use to cope with stress or emotions related to COVID-19 (13.3 percent), and those who reported having seriously considered suicide in the preceding 30 days (10.7 percent),” the CDC said.
The CDC said 74.9 percent of respondents, aged 18-24, and 51.9 percent of those aged 25-44 reported at least one adverse mental or behavioral health symptom.
Sharon Buckman, director of Clinical Services for Piedmont Community Services (PCS), said “changes in appetite, changes in sleep patterns, irritability, difficulty finding enjoyment in things that you did once enjoy, and kind of a loss of a sense of purpose,” also are signs of stress common due to the pandemic.
“Chronic stress creates physical changes in the body that overtime affect our emotions. The longer that this goes on, the more people are likely to be having those effects of chronic stress,” she said.
Buckman said in addition to the isolation and loss of usual coping strategies people also have decision-making fatigue.
“If you have to decide whether it makes sense or not to go to the grocery store, for example. If you think about the decisions that COVID has forced us to make about things that we did without a second thought previously, it can become exhausting to constantly be making those decisions,” she said.
The pandemic also has changed the grieving process.
“It’s normal grieving complicated by the knowledge that perhaps your loved one necessarily didn’t need to die. Or the situation where you wonder if perhaps you didn’t protect your loved one from COVID, and so there’s guilt that goes along with that, and it’s more difficult to resolve grief when people feel guilty or when they feel like there were things that could have been done to prevent the death,” she said.
To help reduce stress and help with mental health issues, Buckman said “talking with someone, even if it’s by phone or by video, just to reduce that sense of isolation is the most important thing” a person can do.
PCS also recommends to “try to do some form of physical activity every day. If the weather’s nice, spend time outside. If you can’t go see people, talk to them on the phone or do video chats. Find activities that you can do that are calming to you, whether that’s cooking, or starting a hobby that you’ve always intended to do.”
Regina Clark, prevention administrator of PCS, said another recommendation is to limit the amount of news exposure and social media exposure.
Buckman said that even before COVID-19, it was clear that the more time young people spent online, particularly with social media, the more depressed they became.
“If their primary way of connecting with others is even more on social media than it was before the pandemic, it stands to reason that depression is going to increase,” she said.
Watching news for extended periods of time each day has the same effects of extended social media exposure, Buckman said.
“I’ve seen recommendations to choose one news source that you trust and limit your interaction to no more than one hour a day of news,” she said.
She said PCS believes mental health problems created by COVID-19 will be the next pandemic. “Isolation has been the biggest stressor for most people. Usually prefer people to avoid isolation, but with COVID you encourage it. Social opportunities that help people keep a feeling of connection have changed because of the pandemic,” Buckman said.
“Generally, you encourage people to avoid isolation, and yet during the pandemic people have had to isolate. That loss of community interaction and social opportunities that were once there – going out to dinner, having people over that are not in your household, going to church – all of those activities that really do help people keep a feeling of connection to others have been changed by the pandemic and we’re slowly coming out of it,” she said.
For more information call PCS at (276) 632-7128 to speak to an operator or visit the organization’s social media page at Facebook.com/PiedmontCommuityServices.