MENTAL HEALTH SPECIAL SECTION: COVID-19 Not Just a Medical Monster but a Mental Monster as Well

Dr. Amy Haynes is a physician at Rogersville’s Ballad Health Medical Associates clinic. She specializes in Family Medicine.

Who would have thought 10 years, five years, or even one year ago that we would be in the midst of a pandemic that has caused so much destruction, but about which we know so little? By this time, many of us are well aware of all the physical symptoms that can accompany COVID-19 such as cough, fever, shortness of breath, diarrhea, headache, fatigue, and loss of smell and taste, but how many of us are aware of the mental symptoms that are not as easily identified, and although are not necessarily related to infection with the SARS CoV2 virus, they are certainly a result of the pandemic? The mental health of our nation has definitely been affected.

According to a nationwide poll by Kaiser Family Foundation more than half, about 53%, of US adults reported their mental health has been negatively impacted due to worry and stress over the pandemic compared to 32% just prior to the beginning of the pandemic. Fear, grief, and anxiety around the virus itself has increased, but financial instability, job loss, isolation, uncertainty around school and work, and the well-publicized political disagreement have all combined to create the perfect storm that is wreaking havoc on our emotions.

Anxiety, depression, and thoughts of suicide have been on the rise at a sharper rate since the pandemic began. Much of our distress is due to the all-encompassing nature and the vast amount of uncertainty that surrounds the virus. In this age of having limitless amounts of information at our fingertips, quite literally, we do not take well to the unknown and lack of good hard facts. That information deficit leaves us quite off balance and at risk for declining mental health.

Some of the symptoms of worsening mental health can include palpitations (fluttering in the chest), feeling nervous or restless, having a sense of impending doom or panic, increased heart rate, rapid breathing, sweating, trembling, feeling weak or tired, trouble concentrating, trouble sleeping, nausea, diarrhea, loss of interest in things previously enjoyed, loss of motivation to engage in activities, do chores, or go to work, feelings of sadness/unhappiness, anger , irritability, tiredness, or thoughts of self-harm. Many times, these symptoms can be mild and self-managed, but they can also be more significant or severe to the point they interfere with an individual’s ability to function in daily life, and at that point, it is time to seek professional help with a medical or behavioral health provider.

It is important to understand anxiety and depression are medical illnesses like hypertension (high blood pressure) and diabetes. Although they can be caused by stress in our environment, there is a physiologic response in our bodies that causes the symptoms that are experienced. It is not “all in your head” and despite all efforts, the majority of the time, it cannot be “wished away” and takes professional help to be managed. So, if you or someone you love is suffering from the mental monster associated with COVID-19 (or any other cause), realize you are not alone and there is help available. Contact your medical health or behavioral health provider or call the Crisis Hotline at 855-CRISIS 1 (855-274-7471).