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COVID-19 and Mental Health

October 7th, 2020
Woman looking out on balcony

Months after the COVID-19 pandemic changed how we live our daily lives, one of the long-lasting impacts that continue today is the increase in anxiety and stress felt by many.

Chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at Catholic Health Services’s Good Samaritan Hospital Medical Center Dr. Louis Teitelbaum, shares how the pandemic can be an overwhelming challenge to our psychological coping mechanism. Uncertainty and unpredictability can create an unhealthy amount of fear and stress, especially when sustained over such a long period.

Below he offers insight into the impact of COVID-19 on our mental health as well as tips on how to cope during these uncertain times.

What are some of the risk factors for developing psychological distress?

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted all populations regardless of race, socioeconomic status, gender or age. However, it has been noted that there are a variety of factors associated with an increased risk of psychiatric symptoms during COVID-19, including:

  • Females, younger adults, essential workers and individuals spending a prolonged period in quarantine.
  • Financial insecurity, which impacts and exacerbates the development of anxiety and depression during the pandemic.
  • Individuals with a prior psychiatric disorder who are also at risk for exacerbation of psychiatric symptoms during the pandemic. There are new obstacles to obtaining medical and psychiatric care like the disruption of normal medical care, relationships with support systems and closure of many programs.

Are there concerns that some may develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?

Most people who go through traumatic events, like the COVID-19 pandemic, may have temporary difficulty adjusting and coping. But they get better with time and good self-care.

It's normal to have upsetting memories, feel on edge or have trouble sleeping after a traumatic event. Someone with inadequate coping mechanisms could develop a mental illness syndrome that includes:

  • Intrusive thoughts such as repeated, involuntary memories.
  • Distressing dreams.
  • Flashbacks of the traumatic event (re-living the traumatic experience). People try to avoid remembering or thinking about the traumatic event. They may resist talking about what happened or how they feel about it. They likely harbor guilty feelings.

We have seen an increase in drug and alcohol use. Why is this bad?

Coping means to invest one's own conscious effort to solve personal and interpersonal problems to try to master, minimize or tolerate stress and conflict. When facing difficulties and stressful situations, it can be tempting to turn to drugs or alcohol to attempt to cope with stress and difficult emotions.

A person with an addiction uses substances or engages in a behavior, for which the rewarding effects provide a compelling incentive to repeat the activity despite detrimental consequences. Serious substance use is the antithesis of coping. Rather, it is the avoidance of the emotional burden and responsibilities.

Healthy alternatives to using drugs and alcohol include music, learning, gardening and physical activity.

What is safe?

This question is on all of our minds. Contradicting reports from experts and politicians fuel uncertainty. The drive to prevent infection collides with the need to be with other people. We do understand the virus is passed from person to person so, the fewer people you are exposed to the lower your risk. Masks and handwashing significantly lower the risk. Anyone who could be ill or at high risk must isolate responsibly.

As we return to normal, it’s important to practice patience and fairness. Many of the people you interact with have experienced loss and illness or have special risks we are not aware of. Many will need much encouragement to return to a normal life.

Call 1-855-CHS-4500 for additional mental health resources. You can also download the CHS Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services Guide.

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