In the April issue of JAMA Internal Medicine, researchers issued a dire warning about the mental health effects of the coronavirus that "immediate efforts focused on prevention and direct intervention are needed to address the impact of the outbreak on individual and population-level mental health."
According to a survey conducted in early April by the Kaiser Family Foundation, nearly half of all Americans are suffering from mental health issues during this pandemic. An Express Scripts survey found that three-quarters of all antidepressant, antianxiety and anti-insomnia prescriptions filled during the week ending March 15 (the peak week) were for new prescriptions. This is not to mention a major increase in calls to crisis help lines, many from front-line workers and those who are just now returning to their places of employment, many of whom are just plain scared to death.
Right now, being depressed and anxious is the norm for most everybody. Not socializing, not touching, having to isolate yourself, and not being able to enjoy the warmth of extended family and friends, is very stressful. The comfy nest that you created for yourself may be beginning to feel like that gilded cage they used to sing about, and there's nothing on TV. I understand the desperate desire to get back to life as we knew it, but the new normal may mean dealing with difficult emotions that you have never before experienced.
First off, this is the way millions who have suffered with depression and anxiety have lived their entire lives. If you already have an underlying mental health issue, it is bound to be exacerbated by the coronavirus, so please temper your response with the understanding that this is completely normal. This pandemic may also give those who have never before gone through a mood disorder some empathy for the millions who have.
Depression and avoidance-oriented anxiety can make us very isolated even during ordinary times. Some of us get so good at distracting ourselves that we don't feel the pain all the time, but when those distractions are removed or we remove ourselves from them, it opens up a box of unhealed emotions that would make Pandora want to crawl back in and lock the lid.
I write my way through the discomfort, and visualization helps too. Other people love hard exercise or yoga. Others garden or cook or find other ways to stay sane through this overwhelming and almost unbelievable event occurring in our lifetimes.
Meanwhile, as the states move toward loosening restrictions on public life, my Spidey sense is tingling at the thought of going back into an office. If you are prone to hypochondria (fear of being ill), this is not a good time for you, but that is understandable, so give yourself and your loved ones some slack.
We are all in this together -- some are going it alone, some have the comfort of family, others are somewhere in the middle -- but nobody is able to escape the emotional toll this pandemic has taken. It's a side effect to be taken seriously as we navigate our way through this new way of doing life and learning to control our fears.
(Dr. Barton Goldsmith, a psychotherapist in Westlake Village, Calif., is the author of "The Happy Couple: How to Make Happiness a Habit One Little Loving Thing at a Time." Follow his daily insights on Twitter at @BartonGoldsmith, or email him at Barton@bartongoldsmith.com.)
(c)2020 Barton Goldsmith
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