A dou­ble cri­sis and a sil­ver lin­ing

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - OPINIONS - Don Dr. Don Koehler is a clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist with Mynd Mat­ters Coun­sel­ing in Richmond. Con­tact him at: dkoehler@ myn­d­mat­ter­scoun­sel­ing.com

Idon’t know about you, but I am not go­ing back to busi­ness as usual. As a men­tal health pro­fes­sional, I’ve seen too much.

I now work from home and Zoom with clients. They strug­gle with de­pres­sion, sui­ci­dal ten­den­cies and anx­i­ety. For many, the virus has only made their symp­toms worse.

An­drew Solo­man, a lead­ing ex­pert on de­pres­sion who him­self suf­fers from de­pres­sion, re­cently called the COVID-19 pan­demic a dou­ble cri­sis: both the ob­vi­ous physical health cri­sis and the less ap­pre­ci­ated and less vis­i­ble men­tal health cri­sis.

A re­cent United Na­tions re­port warns that the pan­demic is gen­er­at­ing a men­tal health cri­sis. The World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion re­ports a 45% in­crease in preva­lence of dis­tress in the United States. Af­ter suf­fer­ing dizzy spells and col­laps­ing at work, an ER doc­tor who is a client of mine has had to face that he is ex­hausted, and his de­pres­sion has re­turned. He re­al­izes he must do more to take care of him­self, or he will not be able to re­turn to work and be of ser­vice to those who need him.

De­spite the re­cent de­ci­sions to move to­ward open­ing and less­en­ing of re­stric­tions, many peo­ple still fear get­ting the virus or hav­ing a loved one be­come in­fected. Th­ese fears and the re­stric­tions have led to so­cial iso­la­tion.

On top of this are the mil­lions of peo­ple los­ing jobs. De­mo­graphic stud­ies in­di­cate that a 1% in­crease in unemployme­nt leads to a 1.6% in­crease in sui­cides. Sui­cide, de­pres­sion, anx­i­ety, sub­stance abuse, un­due stress, lone­li­ness and col­lec­tive trauma have all been doc­u­mented on the in­crease.

As far as sui­cide, the U.S. rates have been steadily increasing since 1998, but with the pan­demic, the rates are ex­pected to take a ma­jor jump. The case of Lorna Breen, an ER doc­tor in New York City who treated coro­n­avirus pa­tients and died by sui­cide re­cently in Char­lottesvill­e, is tragic. It was re­ported that she did not have a his­tory of men­tal ill­ness.

This pan­demic is hap­pen­ing

This pan­demic is hap­pen­ing in the U.S. with a bro­ken men­tal health sys­tem and stag­ger­ingly high lev­els of unemployme­nt and no safety net. This adds up to peo­ple with less money

be­ing likely to not have their men­tal health prob­lems di­ag­nosed or treated.

in the U.S. with a bro­ken men­tal health sys­tem and stag­ger­ingly high lev­els of unemployme­nt and no safety net. This adds up to peo­ple with less money be­ing likely to not have their men­tal health prob­lems di­ag­nosed or treated. The lim­its and loop­holes of the Men­tal Health Par­ity Act and prob­lems ac­cess­ing men­tal health care all con­trib­ute to a men­tal health cri­sis.

Un­like physical health, there is a stigma about hav­ing and get­ting help for men­tal ill­ness. Just look at the re­cent bills passed in Congress in re­sponse to the pan­demic. Only a very small per­cent­age is go­ing to men­tal health. This split­ting of physical health and men­tal health misses the re­al­ity that they are in­tri­cately in­ter­re­lated.

There’s a moun­tain of re­search on how men­tal stress is cor­re­lated with in­flam­ma­tion and chronic dis­ease. De­pres­sion weak­ens the im­mune sys­tem and can in­ter­fere with sleep. Be­cause of the pan­demic, we’re all ex­pe­ri­enc­ing lev­els of grief, loss, in­se­cu­rity and lone­li­ness in ways we never would have fore­seen.

While the health crises are real and many are suf­fer­ing, there are also in­di­ca­tions of change. Peo­ple are sim­pli­fy­ing their lives, tak­ing more walks, slow­ing down and re­flect­ing on what is most im­por­tant. For those for­tu­nate enough, it has been a time of quiet and re­flec­tion and see­ing new pos­si­bil­i­ties. Others are con­nect­ing to a cre­ative part of them­selves pre­vi­ously un­ex­pressed.

Zoom calls have brought ex­tended fam­i­lies to­gether more of­ten. I am help­ing peo­ple use this op­por­tu­nity for growth and self-ex­plo­ration, to in­crease their self­com­pas­sion and en­gage in acts of kind­ness. Some have vowed to not go back to the way their lives were be­fore.

What else do my fel­low ther­a­pists and I tell clients? Con­tinue your fre­quent con­ver­sa­tions and quar­an­tine walks with your partner and fam­ily. Start a reg­u­lar med­i­ta­tion practice in earnest. Work from home or ask your boss for well­ness breaks through­out the work­day for a bet­ter work/ life bal­ance. When I re­turn to the of­fice, I plan to get there by bi­cy­cle.

There are deeply trou­bling pat­terns in how we are liv­ing our lives that are not sus­tain­able and will not pre­pare us for the fu­ture. This time is a unique op­por­tu­nity to re­assess our per­sonal and so­cial lives. It’s a per­fect time to re­align our be­hav­iors with our deep­est val­ues so that there will be a vi­able fu­ture for our­selves, our planet and the youngest gen­er­a­tion’s dreams.

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Koehler

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