You Can Push Back Against Anxiety, Depression, PTSD During Pandemic

by Dr. Hojat Askari, Medical Director, Thumb Butte Medical Center

There’s no disputing that life during the COVID-19 pandemic has been difficult, and the illnesses, isolation, financial loss and overall disruption of life has worsened the overall mental health of the U.S.

The National Center for Health Statistics and the Census Bureau are collaborating on an experimental Household Pulse Survey to rapidly monitor changes in health, unemployment and other issues in the wake of the pandemic.

The first reporting period was from April 23 to May 5, about six weeks after the global pandemic was declared by the World Health Organization. By then, 35.9% of respondents said they were feeling symptoms of anxiety, such as feeling anxious or on edge or an inability to stop worrying, depression, loss of interest in daily life and depressed mood, or both.

The most recently reported results from July 2 to July 7 found 39% of Americans were reporting such symptoms, with anxiety more common at 34% than depression at 27.6%. For more data, including Arizona and other states’ results, visit www.cdc.gov/nchs/covid19/pulse/mental-health.htm.

A 2018 study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found 19.1% of U.S. adults had been diagnosed with a mental illness in the previous 12 months, the most common of these being anxiety at 19% and depression at 7%.

The Risks
There’s any number of reasons why you could be feeling anxious or depressed. You could be sick yourself or have loved ones diagnosed with COVID-19; grieving after the death of a loved one; anxiety around trying to protect you or others from the virus; economic impacts from reduced earnings or job loss; isolation from family or friends; worrying about your kids because they’re going back to school or because they’re going to be stuck with online learning.

Some, especially patients experiencing lengthy hospital stays or health-care workers, could be at risk for post-traumatic stress disorder or the worsening of existing PTSD.

What You Can Do
The National Alliance on Mental Illness has published a “COVID-19 Resource and Information Guide” with suggestions on dealing with the stress and depression you may be feeling right now:

  • Managing information — Get your information from reputable sources such as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and World Health Organization. Limit the amount of coronavirus-related news you consume every day. Reading it versus watching or listening it makes it easier to control how much you take in at any one time.
  • Follow healthy daily rituals — Stick with daily routines such as making your bed, getting dressed, incorporating movement or exercise along with good nutrition and healthy sleep, even when your schedule’s been so disrupted there seems to be little reason to. Pay particular attention to hygiene and other defenses against COVID. If you’re working from home, set up a schedule with regular breaks and a definite endpoint to your workday.
  • Stay connected — Keep in touch by phone, email, video calls, social media or any other method that doesn’t involve getting too physically close to people who aren’t from your household. Make a particular effort with those who may not have much other social contact right now. And keep lines of communication open with those who you do live with. In any case, offer help when you can and ask for it when you need it.
  • Practice relaxation — Mindfulness and meditation can help you relax and manage symptoms of anxiety and depression. Mindfulness is the process of observing yourself and your surroundings without judgment, while meditation trains your focus in on your own thoughts and breath. There are numerous books, websites and videos available with information on both techniques.
  • Get support from others — Talk openly about how you’re feeling with people you trust, and reach out to crisis hotlines such as Warmline (602-347-1100) for when you just need someone to talk to. For crisis situations you can text “NAMI” to 741741 to get a call back from a trained crisis counselor or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.

The full NAMI guide is available at www.nami.org/covid-19.

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