COLUMBUS, Ohio – The COVID-19 pandemic sparked a slew of mental health issues when it started nearly a year ago, and as the virus recedes it's likely to do so again.
Although a full return to pre-pandemic life may be months or even a year away, Dr. Tanya Middleton is already hearing from clients about the stresses and anxieties of returning to normal. Middleton, a clinical assistant professor at Ohio State University, is also a licensed counselor and runs a private practice in the Cleveland area.
"There's still that fear of: 'Are we doing this too soon?'" Middleton said of returning to normal life. "There's understandably a lot of anxiety wrapped up in that."
Any significant amount of change can lead to new stresses and anxiety, Middleton said. People should understand that it's natural to feel uneasy about a drastic life alteration, such as returning to the office after a year of working from home or dining inside a crowded restaurant after only eating outdoors for a year.
As Ohio shut down in 2020 and people were asked to stay away from friends and family, concerns over mental health became a top concern.
Lori Criss, director of the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, appeared alongside Gov. Mike DeWine several times during his COVID-19 press briefings to sound the alarm.
Last April, the state established a phone line seeking to help connect trained professions to people struggling with their mental health because of the pandemic. In the first month alone, the Ohio CareLine fielded more than 1,000 calls, according to a news release.
"The pandemic has created temporary but prolonged stress, resulting in increased anxiety, sadness, and loss for so many," Criss said. "Even with the end in sight, like all-natural disasters the effects of the pandemic on mental health could persist for years."
A recent survey from the American Psychological Association found that 49% of adults reported feeling uncomfortable about returning to in-person interactions when the pandemic ends. Even 48% of who have received the COVID-19 vaccine report feeling the same way.
It will take time for anxiety, stress and depression induced by the virus to fully subside. But, Middleton said, there are ways to overcome them.