The world is deep into the Covid-19 pandemic with all of its “glory.” The medical issues that flow from the pandemic are many, including significant long-term side effects. Memory loss, reduced attention span, and confusion are among the physical long-term effects. But one side effect that took me by surprise is the prevalence of mental health problems, in both adults and children, that have resulted from all the stressors connected to the new hermetic lifestyle imposed upon us as we try to protect ourselves from Covid-19. During this incredibly long period of time, we have not been able to engage in everyday life in any normal way causing anxiety levels to shoot way up. It has been impossible to function during any given day without first considering the repercussions of one’s actions. It is not difficult to understand the stress on the medical world. Doctors, nurses, lab technicians, scientists, hospital maintenance staff, hospital social workers, etc., are all being stretched to their emotional limits after a very long almost two-year period of non-stop working, non-stop concern for their own well-being, and the ongoing death of so many patients. The amount of stress and anxiety being experienced by society in general is also overwhelming. Consider how stressful and anxiety-producing it is for people who need to decide each day if it is safe to go to the market for food. Should they do curbside pick-up instead? Is it safe to spend an evening with friends? Should they take a rapid at home test before spending that evening with friends? Are they able to find the rapid at home test kits? Are their kids able to go to school? Are their kids able to participate in group sports at an outdoor field? Are their kids able to participate in group activities inside if they are masked and vaccinated? Are grandparents able to spend time with grandchildren who have been socializing at school each day? And what about our kids who have been forced to spend long periods of days and months not socializing at all, but have been stuck in front of a computer screen trying to pay attention and learn? And how about teachers who have to teach in front of a computer screen? And, society is of course faced with the issue of the fragile job market that has grown out of the pandemic. The scenarios are endless and each scenario comes with its own hard decisions of how to behave.
As if the pandemic issues are not enough, the world is dealing with any number of political stresses which produce their own kind of anxiety.
The world is a mess right now, and the mental health world is feeling the strain. Even though therapists are increasing their hours to try to accommodate the new numbers of requests for help, there are still so many people who are suffering and have not been able to find a therapist. The number of people seeking mental health help has simply increased so significantly that it is getting more and more difficult to find a psychologist who can schedule any more hours into their day for more new patients. I just read that the Pediatric Anxiety Treatment Center at Hall-Mercer Community Mental Health Center, a part of Pennsylvania Hospital located in Philadelphia, has seen a 400% increase in referrals this year. Before the pandemic, the center had traditionally fielded 3-4 referrals a month, whereas now it is seeing upwards of 6 referrals a week.
This increase in need for therapists is upsetting, but there is a silver lining. Mental health care is getting more attention. All kinds of people are experiencing the pressures from the crises around us, and they are acknowledging the strain. Instead of being “swept under the rug” or talked about in whispers, people are acknowledging their needs and trying to get help. There is less embarrassment and less shame now that there are so many everyday people who are coming forward to seek help with their mental issues. What a great step forward. New attention is being brought to the fact that our mental well-being is affected by so many of life’s challenges and that it is not a sign of weakness at all to acknowledge these challenges and seek help. It is simply a part of life’s journey.
National Alliance on Mental Illness
National Institute of Mental Health