On Aug. 14th, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that between June 23-30, “U.S. adults reported considerably elevated adverse mental health conditions associated with COVID-19.” 40.9% of 5,470 participants described “adverse mental or behavioral health condition,” such as anxiety disorder, depressive disorder, trauma-related symptoms, started or increased substance use and serious suicide inclinations. The CDC further reported that minorities, young adults and essential workers experienced “worse mental health outcomes, increased substance use, and elevated suicidal ideation,” during the period.
After the United States declared a state of emergency and subsequent lockdown, citizens were told to stay in their homes to prevent further spread within their communities. With isolation, fear of contamination and job layoffs creeping around the corner, many citizens started to feel the burden of quarantining during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Michelle Satterlee, associate professor of psychology at John Brown University, said, “I don’t think there is any group that I cannot see an impact … everything requires more energy. It’s probably comparable to adapting to another culture because all of our daily patterns have been disrupted.” She told of clients whose mental health elevated in severity or of almost terminated clients who developed new stressors that kept them in counseling. “The overall description is that everyone’s margins are getting thinner, so we don’t function at 100% of our cognitive capacity. We can’t do that long term, which is not how we are wired,” she said.
Disruption to daily routines, closed schools, companies filing bankruptcy, rising unemployment, forced isolation, social deprivation, worries of familial well-being, economic drainage, prohibited physical contact and canceled opportunities weigh heavy on the hearts and minds of the country.
Jessica Balraj, sophomore psychology major, said, “Well I know a lot of my friends that already have anxiety and depression. It kind of increased just from being isolated and not really having anything to look forward to.” She stated that tensions in the household and the fear of contracting the virus are culprits of affecting the mental health of individuals.
Riley Rhodes, sophomore nursing major, said, “I personally believe God made us to be social with one another. Isolation, in regard to quarantine, can make those social situations more difficult.” She added, “I have a lot of friends who have brought concerns about their suicide and depression due to isolation from quarantine.” Rhodes mentioned that her peers completing school online describe feelings of depression or anxiety due to this isolation and lack of social interaction.
JBU reopened its campus late Aug. 2020, which sparked joy among the community because it allowed people to re-engage with a community abruptly separated in March 2020. Balraj highlighted that, since returning to campus, she knows individuals whose anxiety and depression were reduced because they were finally connected to this larger community. “It did make a big impact on people, like you can tell by seeing people,” she said. However, she did not neglect the lingering fears of many who do not want to be quarantined or contract the coronavirus.
“Those social interactions are meant to refill, and we are not getting refilled at the same rate because we don’t have that affirmation, or we are avoiding contact because it takes so much more effort, we can see it in class,” Satterlee said. She commented how this depravity of social contact is not giving us certainty and is ultimately undermining our sense of security and connectedness.
As of October 13, 215,000 Americans had died due to the COVID-19 virus, with 7.85 million total cases in the U.S. according to Johns Hopkins University & Medicine. The high mortality of Americans that succumbed to COVID-19 is a haunting realization of the futility of life and heightens the fears of contracting the virus. This perpetual fear was reinforced and affected the mental health of many Americans during this time of isolation.
Satterlee analogized, “We are all in rough waters, but we’re not all in the same boat;” therefore, some people may not have enough resources or the capability to recover from the pandemic. “We’ve all received some kind of weathering, but for some the impact is deeper and the support they need is going to be longer,” she said. Such concerns need to be recognized by society; however, despite the mental obstacles constraining lives, individuals are capable of manifesting hope in these dark times to combat the issue. Coping methods to overcome these challenging times require different techniques that correlate with the individual.
Balraj said, “This is very cliché, but you’re not alone. There’s so many people that you don’t know who are struggling with the same things you are.” She said that reaching out to people is vital to helping people overcome their mental health struggles. “There’s someone out that cares about you, there’s always someone that loves you, even when you don’t feel like it,” she stated.
Rhodes recommended, “It needs to be a spiritual as well as tangible approach, so you can go to God or reach out to other people whether through counseling or other people.”
In her NBC article “Mental Health, Substance Abuse, and Suicidal Ideation during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Daniela Pierre-Bravo writes that people need to focus on obtaining hope to overcome these dark moments in our lives. She furthers this statement by stating individuals should be mindful of themselves, create routines, seek out others, focus on controlling the controllable, acknowledge our vulnerability and engage in acts of self-care.
Satterlee emphasized to “Start right now.” She explained we need to acknowledge these circumstances, recognize our critical responses, accept it and then consider a proper progression in life. “I think the number one thing I would say is start from here, not holding my breath or waiting until the circumstance is going to change. But recognizing that—for whatever reason—these are our circumstances for now and there can be a good life even now,” she said. Satterlee continued that faith in a loving, relational God produces the necessary relief to overcome our obstacles and reassures our value in the world.
Mental health is still a relatively new topic of discussion and study experts are continuously researching to understand in greater scope. Unfortunately, current conditions are exponentially affecting the mental health of people around the world. This secret pandemic plagues the minds and hearts of many, yet it quietly resides in few conversations with its silent scream.
If you, or anyone you know, has suicidal thoughts, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK). Students can request an appointment at the JBU Student Counseling Center by visiting www.jbu.edu/student-counseling/.
Photo courtesy of Engin Akyurt