With FDA’s emergency approval of the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccines, we should be at the beginning of the end of COVID-19, shifting urgent attention to another aspect of the pandemic that is impacting even more people.
There’s no vaccine in the works for the mental health pandemic we’re already experiencing. Tragically, there appears to be no strategy either.
t’s this invisible infection silently mutating within millions of homes, classrooms and offices that will have the most far-reaching, lasting consequences for many families who were spared losses from the coronavirus itself. As with the actual virus, the impacts will be particularly acute among those who can least afford the consequences.
Healthcare disparities that left large groups of minorities and low-income communities at increased risk for coronavirus infection are even more alarming when it comes to the protecting the most vulnerable from the mental health pandemic.
In the United States, high-quality, patient-centered mental health services are often entirely inaccessible within low-income communities. Consumers pursuing limited community services often face long delays and must overcome significant barriers to participate, leaving vast segments of the population without timely access to care for which delays can be tragically consequential.
Many people experiencing the most severe symptoms do not yet recognize their experiences as being connected to a global pandemic that is also afflicting millions of others.
At the same time, there’s been no national effort to widely communicate the signs, symptoms and consequences of this mental health pandemic. Many people experiencing the most severe symptoms do not yet recognize their experiences as being connected to a global pandemic that is also afflicting millions of others.
America paid an enormous price for not rapidly responding to early indications from China and other countries to act more swiftly implementing protections against the spread of COVID-19. Local, state and federal policy-makers as well as the media are doing the same by giving little attention to early information from other countries about the mental health pandemic.
Recent studies from Germany, Ireland, Israel and elsewhere reveal findings that should widely inform policy-making and national educational efforts.
Irish study reported: “COVID-19 is associated with a significant mental health burden both in the acute phase and the long-term from people who are exposed to the virus and those not directly exposed … the psychological impact of being in a pandemic is wide-ranging, significant, and long-lasting, requiring effective and accessible psychological support be put in place as early as possible.”
German study highlighted: “The findings for interpersonal violence are alarming.”
An Italian study found: “…
having an acquaintance infected was associated with higher levels of depression and anxiety.”
Multiple studies addressed the mental health consequences of quarantine and found high rates of:
low mood with irritability and insomnia
post-traumatic stress symptoms
As Nathan Jeffay reported last week, a Tel Aviv study found a third of Israelis have high anxiety and one in five has high levels of depression.
“The pandemic is plunging huge numbers of Israelis into depression and anxiety, a recent major study has found, revealing that young adults are surprisingly taking the biggest hit,”
The Times of Israel reported.
The Israeli study found health concerns were a relatively small source of the pressure people are feeling. “Just 5% of the 804-strong sample think health represents the biggest threat, while 30% feel it is political instability and 20% think it is finances.”
Unless America is prepared to deploy effective, experienced mental health professionals to millions of households, the best response to the mental health pandemic is to train people to help themselves.
A U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs review found that skills training that targets strengthening communication, emotional understanding and connection, and conflict resolution was effective helping veteran families relieve the impact of stress, anxiety and trauma.
That approach can help other communities too.
Strategies that improve the emotional health of millions affected by the pandemic will help them overcome the consequences of COVID-19 and leave them better prepared for future mental health challenges too.
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