Chicago Sun-Times - - TOP NEWS - BY LIND­SEY TAN­NER

Men­tal health ther­a­pists’ caseloads are bulging. Wait­ing lists for ap­point­ments are grow­ing. And anx­i­ety and de­pres­sion are ris­ing among Amer­i­cans amid the coro­n­avirus cri­sis, re­search sug­gests.

In the lat­est study to sug­gest an uptick, half of U.S. adults sur­veyed re­ported at least some signs of de­pres­sion, such as hope­less­ness, feel­ing like a fail­ure or get­ting lit­tle plea­sure from do­ing things. That’s dou­ble the rate from a dif­fer­ent sur­vey two years ago, Bos­ton Uni­ver­sity re­searchers said this week in the med­i­cal jour­nal JAMA Net­work Open.

The study did not ask about any di­ag­no­sis they might have re­ceived, and for many peo­ple, the prob­lem is mostly angst rather than full-blown psychiatri­c ill­ness. But ex­perts say the feel­ing is gen­uine and de­serv­ing of pro­fes­sional help.

At Cityscape Coun­sel­ing in Chicago, the new client caseload jumped from 95 to 148 over the past two months, said ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Chelsea Hud­son. The group’s 17 ther­a­pists see about 500 clients a week, and Hud­son said she has hired two more ther­a­pists to deal with the in­creased de­mand.

“We see a lot of sin­gle young pro­fes­sion­als. I think it’s been es­pe­cially tough on them. The iso­la­tion, lack of con­nec­tion, of­ten en­hances de­pres­sion,” she said.

Hud­son said many clients are dis­tressed about so­cial jus­tice is­sues. With more free time, she said, they are pay­ing more at­ten­tion to the news, and Chicago has been hit by van­dal­ism and protests over killings by po­lice.

She said there is “a gen­eral con­sen­sus in the men­tal health field on our need to be ready to brush up on our trauma train­ing. Right now peo­ple are still in a state of shock.”

Chicago isn’t with­out com­pany. Ex­perts say Amer­i­cans na­tion­wide are also feel­ing anx­i­ety over the racial and po­lit­i­cal up­heaval of the past few months, though the BU study was con­ducted be­fore the re­cent tu­mult.

“There is no ques­tion that many peo­ple in the U.S. and world­wide are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing real and of­ten dis­tress­ing emo­tional re­ac­tions to the COVID-19 pan­demic and, in some cases, to con­tract­ing the virus,’’ said psy­chi­a­trist Dr. Ron­ald Pies, a re­tired pro­fes­sor at SUNY Up­state Med­i­cal Uni­ver­sity.

The global out­break has caused more than 850,000 deaths and al­most 26 mil­lion con­firmed in­fec­tions. U.S. cases to­tal 6 mil­lion, with about 185,000 deaths. The cri­sis has also thrown mil­lions out of work, crip­pled the econ­omy and forced shut­downs of bars, restau­rants, the­aters and gyms.

Calls from March through July to the U.S. govern­ment-funded Dis­as­ter Dis­tress Helpline, which of­fers coun­sel­ing and emo­tional sup­port, surged 335% from the same pe­riod last year.

“Helpline coun­selors have re­ported call­ers ex­press­ing feel­ings of iso­la­tion and in­ter­per­sonal con­cerns re­lated to phys­i­cal dis­tanc­ing such as be­ing cut off from so­cial sup­ports,” said Han­nah Collins, a spokes­woman for Vi­brant Emo­tional Health, a group that runs the helpline.

While not all calls are COVID-19-re­lated, many peo­ple have sought help for anx­i­ety and fear about get­ting the virus, dis­tress over be­ing di­ag­nosed, or an­guish over the ill­ness or death of a loved one, she said.

The BU study in­volved a sur­vey of 1,440 U.S. adults ques­tioned about de­pres­sion symp­toms in early April. Symp­toms were most com­mon in young adults, low-in­come par­tic­i­pants and in those who re­ported sev­eral out­break-re­lated trou­bles, in­clud­ing fi­nan­cial prob­lems, lost jobs or COVID-19 deaths of rel­a­tives. Al­most 1,000 par­tic­i­pants had ex­pe­ri­enced at least three such strug­gles.

Wendy Zir­bel of Dodge County, Wis­con­sin, said she de­vel­oped anx­i­ety and de­pres­sion af­ter test­ing pos­i­tive for the virus in June. She said that was partly from get­ting sick — she still has breath­ing and mem­ory trou­bles — and partly from her hus­band’s re­ac­tion.

“He thought COVID was a joke and that it’s all Democrats try­ing to get Trump out of of­fice,” she said. “It still hurts.”

Zir­bel, 45, said she spent days in tears, and her doc­tor pre­scribed an an­tide­pres­sant.

“It was just over­whelm­ing for a cou­ple of weeks. I just couldn’t func­tion,” she said. “That’s to­tally not me. I’m usu­ally the one that’s mak­ing peo­ple laugh.”

Todd Crea­ger, a South­ern California ther­a­pist who spe­cial­izes in re­la­tion­ship trou­bles, has upped his weekly work­load from 22 hours of ther­apy to 30 to han­dle in­creased de­mand. He is see­ing anx­i­ety, de­pres­sion and stress re­lated to fi­nan­cial woes brought on by the pan­demic. And in some cases, virus-re­lated shut­downs have am­pli­fied ex­ist­ing strife.

“In the past, peo­ple could get dis­tracted by go­ing to con­certs and din­ners. Now their prob­lems are kind of star­ing them in the face,” he said. “I’ve heard peo­ple say, ‘This pan­demic has made me re­al­ize how toxic my re­la­tion­ship is.’ ”

Da­ley Plaza in the Loop sits empty ear­lier this year. The pan­demic has caused anx­i­ety and de­pres­sion to rise as peo­ple grap­ple with feel­ings of hope­less­ness.

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