“With the pandemic, we are all experiencing a shared trauma, similar to 9/11, hurricanes or other natural disasters” says Dr. Paul Crosby, COO at Lindner Center of HOPE, a nonprofit mental health center in Mason that provides care for those suffering with mental illness.
With shared trauma, there is an increase in mental health symptoms for a period of time. In the case of an ongoing trauma like a pandemic, however, there is ongoing economic, political and emotional trauma that serves to increase those rates of mental health symptoms. According to Dr. Crosby, anxiety, which has increased exponentially in the wake of the coronavirus, thrives on uncertainty.
“The nature of this particular crisis is that we have a virus that we are still worrying about,” says Dr. Crosby. “There’s a lot we don’t know about it yet — like how long it’ll last, if or when we’ll get a vaccine, or how to contain it. There’s all kinds of uncertainty relating to this situation, and that’s really unsettling.”
For those predisposed to mental illness or who already suffer from a mental disorder, the additional stress related to the pandemic can serve as a trigger to exacerbate their symptoms — eating disorders or addictions, for instance. To determine if you should seek professional help, Dr. Crosby suggests asking yourself, “Are my symptoms interfering with my ability to function?”
A mental illness, regardless of which one it is, interferes with a person’s ability to be themselves. So, if you notice that a loved one seems “off,” it may be time to seek the advice of either a primary care doctor or a mental health provider. The “wait and see” approach is never a good idea as things can go from bad to worse very quickly sometimes.
“We want to serve patients’ needs right away because if we don’t, there’s a higher likelihood that down the line those people will end up in ERs or hospitals,” says Dr. Crosby.
Treatment needs to be individualized as there are many options available, including medication, evidence-based psychotherapies, and neuromodulation, among others.
“Mental health symptoms are real, just like physical ones. So is the pain that goes with it,” says Dr. Crosby. “But our treatments have a high success rate. Our goal is to get people feeling back like themselves again.”
Counter Unpredictability with Structure
Some people don’t necessarily need professional treatment but can benefit from coping strategies to help them feel better.
Because anxiety thrives on unpredictability, the best way to counter it is to take steps to inject structure into your life. That may be as simple as waking up at the same time every day, setting and sticking to a daily schedule, and prioritizing tasks, starting with small things before tackling big ones that may serve to overwhelm.
With anxieties swirling around schools reopening, sports and extracurricular activities, returning to work, and a myriad of other issues, our minds can get stuck in overdrive.
“The brain tends to jump to ‘all or nothing’ conclusions when we’re under stress, as in, ‘Are we going to shut everything down? Are we going to open everything up?’” explains Dr. Crosby, noting that it’s best to establish a ‘middle ground’ between living in a bubble and living as we did pre-pandemic without face masks or social distancing.
“In medicine, we like to say that before you go into a code in the ER, the first pulse you take is your own,” says Dr. Crosby. “You can’t help anybody if you’re not in a place where you’re feeling together and stable and have some kind of plan for how you’ll manage your own emotions. That really applies here, too.”
Though it’s normal to experience distress in a time like this, the key, according to Dr. Crosby, is to determine how best to process your emotions — not necessarily to solve them but to understand them. Right now, we, as a society, are figuring things out as we go, and that can be unsettling when there is no crystal-clear plan to follow.
Conundrum: Social Isolation
When we feel lost and stressed, feelings of hopelessness can well up. Sadly, the number of suicides has spiked since the pandemic’s onset. According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, economic stress, social isolation, reduced access to religious services, and overall national anxiety all lead to an increase in suicidal ideation.
Ironically, social isolation is integral in fighting the COVID-19 virus.
“Isolating oneself goes against what we council people to do when they feel symptoms related to mental illness,” says Dr. Crosby. “That has made delivering mental healthcare more challenging.”
Lindner Center of HOPE engages in a lot of programs that help people wherever they are in their journey. For instance, they have a rapid access service, which are quick turnaround appointments that patients can get with a psychiatrist and social worker if they don’t have access to a provider. They also have a residential program called Coping with Crisis, which was created to help walk people through how to manage in these times. This program, which includes access to psychologists, anxiety specialists, spiritual care advisors, and nutritionists, is considered a “restart” to healthy living.
September was National Suicide Prevention Month. Though there are a number of reasons why people don’t seek mental healthcare, the one topping the list is the stigma associated with it. The more we talk about mental illness just as if it were any other physical illness like high blood pressure or diabetes, the faster we fight that stigma.
Lindner Center of HOPE is located at 4075 Old Western Row Road, Mason, OH 45040. For more information, call 513.536.4673 or visit lindnercenterofhope.org.