Even when the pandemic is over, negative mental health impacts will persist

Coronavirus

The pandemic has taken a toll on mental health across the world. (Getty Images)

(NEXSTAR) – The pandemic has taken a toll on mental health across the world.

According to a CDC study from August, at least 40 percent of U.S. adults reported struggling with mental health or substance abuse in June, three months after the nationwide lockdown first started.

The study found an increase in anxiety and depression, trauma and stress-related disorders, substance use and suicidal ideation. A shocking 10.7 percent of study respondents said they had considered suicide in the 30 days before completing the survey.

But what comes after the pandemic? Will the negative mental health impacts persist?

According to Dr. David Cates, a clinical psychologist and Director of Behavioral Health at Nebraska Medicine in Omaha, “There will be a substantial percentage of people with lasting effects.”

“The literature suggests it depends on a whole variety of variables — whether you lost someone or contracted COVID-19 yourself — but we expect there will be some post-traumatic stress disorders and potentially stress and anxiety. There are unfortunately some people who will continue to experience effects.”

Cates knows what he’s talking about. He works as a behavioral health consultant for the National Quarantine Unit and the Nebraska Biocontainment unit, where people exposed to biohazards, such as Ebola, can come to quarantine. He’s seen firsthand the effects of quarantine on people.

“There have been a variety of national surveys looking at rates of anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress symptoms in the population at-large as well as suicidal ideation, and we do see higher rates of psychiatric morbidity in the general population,” he said.

Cates has a few suggestions for people struggling right now:

  • Don’t indulge in too much media: “It’s really not good for you to consistently look at bad news throughout the day.”
  • Prioritize supportive relationships: “I can’t overemphasize the importance of social connection, even virtually.”
  • Learn formal stress management techniques. Cates recommends the app Covid Coach for tips and tricks “to learn how to physiologically calm your body down.”
  • Do things you enjoy, whether it’s cooking, taking a walk or doing a craft.

But if someone is struggling to the point where they can’t complete daily functions, including work responsibilities, it’s time to seek out professional help.

“Whether you can’t function or you’re having intrusive memories or you’re using drugs and alcohol more than usual, those are all indicators that you should seek professional treatment,” he said.

But Cates stresses the importance of having hope. When looking at disasters, like hurricanes and tornadoes, “the majority of people get through it and end up being okay.”

“Inside the word ’emergency’ is ’emerge’,” Rebecca Solnit writes in her book “Hope in the Dark,” on overcoming disasters, “from an emergency new things come forth.” The old certainties are crumbling fast, but danger and possibility are sisters.”

Cates seems to think Solnit’s words ring true.

“It’s important to have hope,” he says. “When there’s so much bad news, hope can really get us through a lot. There is a light at the end of the tunnel in terms of the pandemic.”

If you or someone you care about are having difficulty in pandemic or otherwise, please reach out for help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available at (800) 273-8255.

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