The coronavirus pandemic is affecting the way we live our lives today. To date, America has reportedly recorded over 100,000 coronavirus-related deaths.
As the number of COVID-19 deaths and cases in America increases, so have the number of mental health cases according to studies. The coronavirus has affected people’s physical health, their daily lives, and now studies show that it is also affecting the public’s mental health.
Since March 2020 when shelter-in-place guidelines went into effect in America, there has been a surge in anxiety and depression-related cases due to the coronavirus.
“Some clinicians have reported seeing an increase in anxiety and depression symptoms,” said Krystal Lewis, a licensed clinical psychologist and researcher at the National Institute on Mental Illness. “This is to be expected, as fear is a very normal and adaptive response to a perceived threat, including threats to health such as the coronavirus.”
Then, over the summer, the country has lived with the deaths of George Floyd, Briana Taylor, Rayshard Brooks, and, now, Jacob Blake, with protests and riots across the country and around the world on their behalf rallying against police brutality.
Dr. Delvena Thomas of DRT Behavioral Services said African-Americans are dealing with two pandemics today: COVID-19 and racism.
She said she feels both are reasons behind increased anxiety and depression cases among African-Americans today.
“People are sitting at home wondering trying to figure out ways they are going to pay their bills. Now stressing and anxiety became a bigger issue with the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd,” Thomas said. “There are disappointment and anger among African-Americans regarding Black-related deaths from COVID-19 and now with the injustice with the shooting of blacks. Injustices in America are real.”
She added, “As mental health professionals, we are now dealing with micro-aggressions and macro-aggressions. It’s challenging.”
“Anxiety happens when we don’t know what’s going to happen or when change is happening and we don’t want to deal with the change,” said Georgiana Bagley, a metro Atlanta Licensed Therapist and owner of Bagley Youth Development. “There are ways people can learn to control their behavior during heightened stress and anxiety.”
Bagley said that the topic of mental health itself is broad. There is depression, anxiety, and mental health issues related to substance abuse and domestic violence, she explained.
According to Bagley, the signs of anxiety include withdrawal, sadness, being overwhelmed, or lacking interest in things. She said that people do not have to feel isolated or alone and that there is always help, even if it means calling 9-1-1.
“Allow feelings to come through and get over you. Feel it, let it come up, and let it roll off your back. You have to be able to feel feelings and not let them overwhelm you,” Bagley explained. “The idea about therapy is to get individuals to get their own ‘aha’ moment, figuring things out for themselves, versus being told what to do.”
When dealing with anxiety, Bagley said people will resist, but she says persist.
“Individuals may fear being racially profiled while wearing a mask, have greater difficulties getting access to testing, and experience a scarcity of resources, which all contribute to stress and significantly impact mental health in communities of color,” Lewis said. “Health disparities that stem from structural racism have taken a toll on blacks and communities of color. The pandemic has highlighted the continued racial and ethnic disparities in health and mental health and must be addressed.”
Naturally, as humans, we want to socialize and interact with other people. This can be challenging with the shelter-in-place and social distancing guidelines, especially for people who live alone. Social distancing may be causing heightened anxiety and depression.
Dr. Frita Fisher, a medical doctor at Emory in Atlanta, said that while it’s not a good idea to attend social outings, people could engage in what she calls “social IN-ings” by meeting with family and friends virtually on a regular basis.
“Make video chat dates while you are on Facetime, Zoom, or Google Duo,” Fisher explained. “Set the start time and finish time and also set the date and meeting reminders. Do what you would have done face to face to the best of your ability.”
Fisher also suggests that people not sit around all day, but get into the habit of making a daily to-do list or schedule, to help them set goals and be productive throughout the day.
“Make a schedule to reduce stress during the coronavirus,” Fisher said. “If you don’t establish a routine, your sleep-wake schedule may be disrupted, you may lose track of the days, and lose your purpose. Your schedule does not have to be absolute and rigid, but you do need to establish a daily routine.”
Exercise is another coping mechanism people could use to reduce stress, Fisher suggested. Walking, jogging, dancing, and even yoga have all been known to reduce stress, she explained.
“Even if you are pressed for time, slipping in a quick five minutes of cardiovascular activity can reduce stress,” Fisher said.
Lewis also said people should be active and exercise and engage in meaningful activities.
“Have a list of pleasant activities that you enjoy and keep it visible or easily accessible,”Dr. Lewis said. “Do things that make you feel good and bring value to your life. Activity scheduling and planning your day can be extremely helpful.”
One metro Atlanta woman who had been working for years in the restaurant industry, Leslie Knight, shared how stressed she has been throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s been hard,” she said. “I’m a full-time student, single mom, homeowner working two jobs now. I fell into a deep depression when the quarantine hit. I’ve got an online therapist to cope. I am so stressed out.”
Another metro Atlanta woman, Jill Sanders, said, “When I see all the people who are dying (referring to black people), it makes me afraid it can happen to me. Before the pandemic, I was doing pretty good, but having to stay home was scary. I still feel more anxious at times.”
Lewis suggested that people who may be experiencing symptoms of anxiety and depression to consider getting professional help.
“A trained mental health professional can help you find effective approaches for managing your symptoms,” Lewis explained. “One example is a type of psychotherapy called cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which has shown to be effective in treating anxiety and depression. CBT helps you to reduce your fears, manage feelings of being overwhelmed, challenge your unhelpful thoughts, and act in meaningful ways.”
“Talk about it and find somebody to talk to. You don’t have to do it alone. Taking care of yourself is the most important thing,” Bagley said. “Before the coronavirus, our lives were so busy and hectic all the time. Now is the perfect opportunity to take care of yourself and do things that you enjoy and interest you most.”
For information on how you can get help with anxiety or depression, call 1-800-985-5990, the SAMHSA Disaster Distress Helpline or call 1-800-273-8255 the Suicide Prevention Lifeline.