Depression, Anxiety & The Covid Pandemic: What Have We Learned?

After years of struggling with the Covid pandemic, the global focus is shifting towards the mental health fallout many people endured from long-term isolation, fear, and uncertainty.

Studies conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that in the first few months of the coronavirus pandemic, the share of U.S. adults who said worry and stress related to the coronavirus was having a negative impact on their mental health increased from about one-third (32%) in March 2020 to roughly half (53%) in July 2020. The March 2021 KFF COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor finds that about half of adults (47%) continue to report negative mental health impacts related to worry or stress from the pandemic.

In this interview, board-certified psychiatrist Corey Thompson, MD, talks about the affect the pandemic has had on the mental health of Iowans, how people are struggling to “re-integrate” back into society, and why it is so important to share these feelings with others, especially your physician.

Q&A with COREY THOMPSON, MD, board-certified psychiatrist

Depression, Anxiety & The Covid Pandemic: What Have We Learned?

How has our individual and collective mental health been affected by the pandemic? As we move into the endemic stage, what have we learned and how can we help ourselves and others? We recently sat down with Mason City Clinic psychiatrist Corey Thompson, MD, to get some perspective and answers.

In your opinion, how has the Covid pandemic affected our individual and collective mental health? What have you seen in your practice over the last two years?

From the beginning, the Covid pandemic has been incredibly stressful for people who were either constantly worrying about themselves or a loved one catching the virus, as well as feeling more isolated and depressed without the same social outlets as pre-pandemic. Now we are seeing patients who have an increased general social anxiety after so much isolation and lockdown. Many say they have lost the instincts of how to navigate social situations.

Currently I have seen a major uptick in patients who have lingering physical symptoms known as “long Covid”, which are not explained and unusual — like gaining or losing weight to an extreme, neurological issues, extreme anxiety — that are treatment resistant. The medications and other therapies we typically use to treat these conditions are not working at the same level. We will discover more and more over time how much Covid affects the body and brain.

Do you think that people’s mental health – depression, anxiety, loneliness – will lessen overall as we move into a more ‘normal’ way of living and interacting with one another again?  Or do you think there will be some post-traumatic stress for some people. 

As time goes on, I do believe people will be able to integrate back into life again. However, for people who were severely ill and ended up in ICU and intubated and survived, they may be more likely to have PTSD from that very real and scary experience.

Do you think there is a silver lining to mental health being such a prominent issue talked about and addressed during the pandemic?

Unfortunately, mental health still has a social stigma. So, the more mental health can be discussed openly in the media and among one’s own family and friends, the more normalized it becomes, and people don’t feel like “I must be defective because I am depressed or anxious.”

What is the best thing people can do if they are feeling depressed, anxious, lonely? What can primary care physicians do to help people who are depressed, lonely or anxious?

Whenever a person is feeling anxious or depressed or lonely, they should tell someone about how they are feeling – whether it is a family member and/or friend, a minister or a teacher. Ask for help. Also, there are a number of simple things people can do to feel better like practicing meditation and mindfulness, spending time outside in nature, exercising and eating well.

Primary Care Physicians are such an important part of the mental health support system for people because they screen patients for suicidal thoughts, depression and anxiety, and can immediately discover if someone is struggling and make the referral to a mental health professional. It’s a key part of getting people the help they need.

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