As the COVID-19 pandemic that caused a nationwide quarantine beginning mid-March continues to progress, numbers of affected individuals in certain areas of the United States have begun to decrease. With this comes the lifting of restrictions, whether it be allowing outdoor restaurant dining or the opening of personal care businesses.
As the pandemic led to a significant impact on the country, including self-isolation to anxiety surrounding contracting the virus, it is inevitable that the mental health of Americans has taken a toll. Online mental health resources have experienced increases up to 65 percent in patients in comparison to patients assisted during this same time last year. As Americans resume to some sort of normalcy, it is imperative that mental health professionals recognize the impact the pandemic had, and find ways to effectively deal with this impact.
Some may argue that the pandemic could lead to positive outcomes instead of totally negative outcomes. However, few will leave the pandemic better than they started, especially when considering the minority groups disproportionately affected by the virus. To guarantee that individuals overcome any hardships, additional resources must be created, and mental health professionals must be trained in trauma-related stress.
Impacts On The Mental Health Of Americans
The effects of the pandemic in terms of mental health have come in numerous forms. A major element of the quarantine has been social distancing, which has resulted in isolation, a significant loss of social interaction, and changes in work and daily schedules for almost all Americans. Combined with feelings of fear and anxiety surrounding contracting the virus, stress levels are at an all time high. Over 40 million Americans filed unemployment claims, and loss of work can be directly related to high stress levels. As Americans do not know what the next few months of their year will look like, feelings of fear and anxiety place pressure on the mental health of individuals nation-wide.
Another result of the pandemic has been a change in how individuals access mental health resources. Due to guidelines set, many mental health facilities have resorted to virtual forms of support to limit the amount of in-person contact. Virtual forms of support can include weekly therapy sessions through video calls or increased use of hotlines, for example.
Due to an increase in stress and anxiety levels with mental health treatment only being available virtually, Americans will quickly look toward in-person treatment as soon as it is available. Mental health resources must recognize the impact the pandemic has had and how imperative access to proper care will be once Americans are able to utilize it.
Groups Experiencing The Most Hardships
It is imperative to recognize the effects the pandemic has on certain groups within our society. A major group that has been experiencing changes in personal mental health is American healthcare workers. These individuals are on the front lines treating the virus and witnessing the loss of over 100,000 people under conditions most have never experienced in their professional healthcare careers. Dealing with the consequences of treating a new virus with no vaccine has increased stress levels to a point where physicians must battle emotional burdens while doing post-mortem care or making sure they do not contract the virus in the workplace.
Minority groups, such as African Americans and Latino Americans, have been disproportionately affected by the virus due to occupations in essential workplaces. With continued exposure to the virus in daily life, mental health concerns are at a rise for these groups. In addition, minority groups that may experience difficulty in accessing mental health support due to language barriers are at even more of a disadvantage, as a larger portion of minority populations will need support when not enough support exists in the first place.
Mental health concerns vary person-to-person, but recognizing what groups of society may need specific assistance will help resources prepare for the future. By understanding that there will be a surge in healthcare professionals looking for mental health treatment, providing training for mental health clinicians in trauma-related stress will allow them to properly treat these patients directly affected by treating others with COVID-19, for example. The pandemic has caused new stressors to demographics in our society, and these stressors have the potential to create mental health concerns that clinicians have not seen before.
What Can Mental Health Professionals Do?
As anxiety, stress, and fear collectively contribute to a growth in mental health concerns, it is necessary that mental health resources recognize the negative effects the virus has had on all Americans, and specifically certain groups within our society. Mental health support must become more widespread as in-person treatment resumes, as virtual treatment over the recent months has shown a tremendous increase.
Specifically, support surrounding anxiety correlated with economic stress, the well-being of loved ones, and the fear of contracting the virus must be addressed properly in all mental health facilities. Even though many Americans have experienced similar struggles during this time, mental health resources must recognize that the effects are not one-size-fits-all and must be prepared for an increase in individuals seeking out professional help. It is also necessary that additional training occurs, additional resources are created, and therapists specializing in traumatic stress are utilized by mental health facilities to guarantee that the effects of this pandemic do not possess detrimental consequences for any longer than they have to.
Why Prepare For The Worst?
Some may argue that there is a possibility that mental health could improve during this time, as some Americans are relieved of stress that comes with their working environment or with certain social interactions. Americans have evaluated that the pandemic could improve relationships among family members, attitudes towards personal health, and even a decrease in our carbon footprint. Although these points are valid in expressing that the pandemic will not lead to consequences that are overwhelmingly negative, there is only a token group of society that will be able to experience positives instead of negatives.
Just as one person may experience a stronger connection with their family while quarantining, another person may experience a loss of communication with friends in their workplace, creating poor connections. The effects of the pandemic are multifaceted, and it is necessary to recognize that the mental health consequences on societal groups such as healthcare workers and African Americans will be much more significant than the possible positive effects.
In conclusion, it is clear that Americans are utilizing more mental health resources during this pandemic in comparison to months prior to this pandemic. By evaluating the stressors and anxiety surrounding the conditions of the pandemic, mental health resources can better prepare for the surge in individuals reaching out for treatment as pandemic restrictions are lifted.
Additionally, recognizing the different effects the pandemic has on different members of society will guarantee that individuals are receiving the treatment they need. It is time for preparation that will make sure we are proactive about resolving any sort of mental health crisis created by the COVID-19 pandemic.