Why is there a concern about mental health during this time?
There is a lot of anxiety associated with the virus itself. You’re worried about you own health and your family. There is a lot of uncertainties around it, and that always creates anxiety. Then of course, being alone in your home, even in the time of social media and Netflix [can create anxiety]. We are social people and this takes away a lot of coping mechanisms.
What are things people can do to keep themselves healthy mentally, especially while social distancing?
One thing I tell people that is overlooked a lot is that it is OK to be anxious. A lot of people get into a situation where they are anxious and then they feel bad for it, so they get into a vicious cycle of being anxious and upset that they are anxious. A lot of times I tell people it's OK. Let’s embrace it, and then let’s learn how to cope with it. You can do Zoom or FaceTime, or if you have pets, they’re great. Exercise is great. Stay away from the things that make you nervous, like the news. People may get anxiety from constantly checking how many people are infected. Check once a day to keep up on current events, and then provide yourself a shield of protection.
There are so many different situations that can cause a person to be anxious at this time; as a medical professional, how do you navigate mental health for the different situations people may be in?
It’s really difficult. One thing that I try to do is to provide as much education as I can. Knowledge is power in this situation. If you are worried about getting it, I tell people how to protect themselves. If they do get [the virus], we tell them we are there for them. We talk about nutrition and exercise. As for mental health, it is very complicated because there is so much on the spectrum. Some people just need to be reassured, and then other people who have underlying depression and anxiety and we try to make sure they have their medication and care. We also stay up-to-date on what is going on in the government, especially on the stimulus package, so if people lose their jobs we can give them resources on where to look.
How do you suggest people keep up with the mental health practices they had before this broke out, especially those who have ongoing depression or anxiety?
We make sure that they can continue their medications—that they have refills and they have people to pick up their medicine. Nothing can be more disastrous then abruptly stopping something that is helping them. We adjust medications if we need to; we add medications if we need to. Sometimes we need to provide an as-needed medication for those times that a person just feels like they can’t get control of the situation.
What are the concerns with mental health once we are on the other side of this virus? Do you anticipate there will be people who have a hard time getting back into the routine or some who experience PTSD?
Absolutely. I think the aftermath of this situation is going to go on for years. There are some things that are going to be changed forever. I think it is going to take some time for people to get into the routine of their jobs and to getting back into the community. I am sure there will be people wearing masks into next year. We need to educate. We need to let people acclimate to going back to work after working from home for such a long time—maybe two days at home and the rest of the week at the office.
That’s interesting, I hadn’t considered the need for the reacclimation period.
Yes, I think that is one of the reasons districts are considering letting kids finish semester at home. Having two months off and then going back to school for two weeks and then having summer would be very stressful for kids, I think.