As we approach the two-year mark of the COVID-19 pandemic, a shocking number of Americans are seeking mental health help and treatment. Exhaustion, burnout, anxiety and depression for many are skyrocketing.
COVID numbers dropped briefly with vaccines over the past year, and people were relieved the pandemic could be coming to an end. We started to relax and resume our normal activities. However, the latest surge of the omicron variant has caused a new wave of mental health concerns, as many fear the end of the pandemic is still a long way off.
With the new, more transmissible omicron variant, many are consumed with the worry of getting sick or possibly making a loved one sick. Many are struggling to lead a normal life when we constantly hear of increasing numbers of cases, illnesses and deaths.
People lack resilience and emotional coping skills to lean on. Many seek help for depression, substance abuse disorders, or suicidal thoughts. This is also true for children and adolescents. The number of suicide attempts is on the rise among children and adolescents.
In children, much of their emotional development is linked to their interactions with other children, most often in school settings with peer groups. Virtual learning and social distancing have prevented many children from having the social interaction they need. Over the past year, an astronomical number of children have experienced mental health issues.
Many school systems typically have services that help children with behavioral and mental health issues, but when they’re not in school, they don’t have the same access. Because of this, we are seeing more children who were already struggling and more children with new diagnoses.
Our anxiety increases every day because it is difficult for us to grasp this permanent state of uncertainty and not know when it will end. We deal with a crisis much better when we see an end point. Since most people have never experienced a pandemic before, the long-term effects it may have on mental health are still unknown. We know the crisis in behavioral health, mental health and substance use disorders is here – what we don’t know is how long this tidal wave will last.
Although many factors related to the COVID-19 pandemic are beyond our control, there are ways to reduce our anxiety and depression by doing things we have control over:
• Go outside, even 5 to 15 minutes a day, breathe fresh air and enjoy the sun.
• Walk and move your body for 20 minutes a day, even if broken into 5 minute bursts.
• Identify and release your emotions and frustrations by writing or talking with someone.
• Improve your mood every day: say something you are grateful for; dying of laughter; be nice to a stranger; or talk with someone you love.
If you’ve been feeling “stuck” for more than a few weeks and feel like you can’t get out of it, it will help to try talking to a medical professional. You are not alone as many are feeling this way right now. One of the silver linings that has come out of the pandemic is that people are finally talking about mental health more and ending the stigma that the subject once had.
If you are having suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. The lifeline offers free and confidential 24/7 support to people in distress.
For more information about SSM Health’s behavioral health services, visit ssmhealth.com.
Laurel Kramer, PhD, is an outpatient psychologist who provides care for people with depression and anxiety. His other professional interests include helping his patients manage life with chronic and serious health conditions, such as cancer, helping patients with life transitions, as well as providing assistance with personal care stressors. older people that caregivers encounter. To make an appointment with Kramer, call 573-681-3249.