By Linda Haase
The CDC’s prediction of 130,000 deaths in the U.S. from COVID-19 by July 4 is downright depressing. After all, we expected to be celebrating the nation’s independence, not lamenting a historic loss.
The pandemic’s physical toll is well known, but the emotional impact is less publicized.
A Kaiser Family Foundation poll revealed that nearly half of Americans feel the COVID-19 threat is harming their mental health. That number skyrockets to 65% for frontline health care workers and their families and people with income loss.
“The pandemic has had a tremendous impact on mental health and we’re probably only seeing the tip of the iceberg,” explains Marni Feuerman, a Boca Raton licensed psychotherapist. “We’re in a collective trauma that has us all living in fear.”
While grief is an overwhelming symptom, others include anxiety, depression, insomnia, loneliness and substance abuse.
“Struggles that clients may have had prior to the pandemic are now magnified. There are also more complaints around marriage problems, parenting due to kids being home 24/7, and financial worries, particularly among those who have lost their jobs,” says Feuerman, who is also a licensed clinical social worker and licensed marriage and family therapist.
“The biggest impact seems to be hitting those who are middle- to lower-income and those with young children. These are the ones who tend to not have a lot of savings and if they’ve lost their jobs, are experiencing a domino effect from the loss of income and the inability to effectively find new employment. A significant impact has also been for spouses or children in a home with domestic violence. The stress plus being together all the time with the perpetrator has put victims in serious danger.”
Social distancing has added to the tension.
“Being confined to home or not being able to do routine schedules and to have to restrict other normal day to-day activities is incredibly difficult. Social distancing and the lack of contact with others is also deeply affecting people’s mental well-being,” Feuerman says.
Simply put, people are not wired for isolation.
And, Feuerman notes, the usual support system — friends, family, coworkers and in-person support groups — can’t always assist these days.
But there are other ways you can cope, she says, and it’s important not to wait.
“There are so many compassionate therapists ready to help,” she says, adding that many insurance companies pay for telehealth visits and that crisis phone lines are free.
“I also advise people to limit the news, create a routine even if confined to the home that includes daily exercise, and stay connected to others via calls, texts and videoconferencing. People should search meditation or relaxation apps or those that help with general coping skills. We have the gift of time right now and if there is something you haven’t had the time to do in the past, now is your opportunity.”
Other experts suggest writing down your fears, creating artwork, doing puzzles or playing games, taking an online course, gardening, trying a new recipe and planning virtual events.
She hopes post-pandemic changes will include increased funding for mental health.
“The mental health industry has always needed more funding, but after the pandemic they need it more than ever,” she says. “If there’s any way to better prepare for the mental health fallout, I hope it happens. I anticipate more people with complaints of trauma and perhaps even meeting criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder.” Above all, don’t give up hope, Feuerman implores. “There’s much growth that comes out of hardship."
Where to find help
• Faulk Center for Counseling’s New Connections Zoom support group.
When: 6-7 p.m. Tuesdays
Call: 561-483-5300 for link
• Real Talk, virtual support group for teens sponsored by Palm Beach County Youth Services Department’s Youth and Family Counseling program.
When: 4:30-5:30 p.m. Wednesdays
Call: 561-242-5714 to register
• 211 Helpline provides support, suicide prevention and help locating available resources.
• Disaster Distress Helpline: crisis counseling for people experiencing emotional distress related to any disaster.
• National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
• Palm Beach County School District hotline for student mental health
When: 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday-Friday