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Coping in a COVID World

In May of this year, the U.S. crossed an ominous milestone. One million deaths due to COVID-19 infection. However, among those that have survived, many are suffering other ill effects including strained mental health.

In a scientific brief that came out in March, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that, globally, anxiety and depression symptoms rose by 25%. One major explanation for the increase is the unprecedented stress caused by the social isolation resulting from the pandemic. Tied into this were challenges to one’s ability to perform their job, seek support from loved ones, and engage in their communities.

Loneliness, fear of infection, suffering and death for oneself and for loved ones, grief after bereavement, and financial worries have also all been cited as factors leading to anxiety and depression. Among health workers, exhaustion/burnout has been a major trigger for suicidal thinking.

The brief explains that the pandemic has affected the mental health of young people and that they are disproportionally at risk of suicidal and self-harming behaviors. It also indicates that women have been more severely impacted than men and that people with pre-existing physical health conditions, such as asthma, cancer, and heart disease, can be more likely to develop symptoms of mental health disorders.

The WHO reported that people with pre-existing mental disorders do not appear to be disproportionately vulnerable to COVID-19 infection. Yet, when these people do become infected, they are more likely to be hospitalized and suffer severe illness and death compared with people without mental disorders. People with more severe mental disorders, such as psychosis; and young people with mental disorders are particularly at risk.

This growing prevalence of mental health problems has coincided with severe disruptions to mental health services, leaving huge gaps in care for those who need it most. Throughout much of the pandemic, services for mental, neurological and substance use conditions were the most disrupted among all essential health services reported by WHO Member States. Many countries also reported major disruptions in life-saving services for mental health, including for suicide prevention.

Even today, many find themselves unable to get the care and support they need for both pre-existing and newly developed mental health conditions. Without access to in-person care, many people have sought support online or via telehealth, signaling an urgent need to make reliable and effective digital tools available and easily accessible.

Kelsey Seybold Clinic’s Dr. Biren Patel said, “our mental health is part of our physical health and should be prioritized. If feeling changes in our mood or anxiety, please consider discussion with a healthcare professional, including with our primary care providers. They can listen and assist with treatment if needed, as well as refer to mental health specialists as needed.

During the pandemic our Behavioral Health department was able to provide care via telehealth and telephone opportunities, and this was a great way to be able to see a provider even if a pandemic surge was occurring. We can provide psychotherapy counseling and medication management, at our Meyerland and The Woodlands locations, for our Kelsey Care Advantage members. Working on positive techniques including exercise, yoga, meditation, staying connected to others, and limiting news intake can help with our mental health as well.”

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