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COVID-19 Pandemic Exacerbates Mental Health Issues

Don Mordecai, M.D., talks with HD Live! about mental health consequences, in particular for frontline health care workers

THURSDAY, July 9, 2020 (HealthDay News) — Just as the physical symptoms of COVID-19 vary among the population, mental health is enduring a variety of effects from the virus as well, according to Don Mordecai, M.D., national mental health and wellness lead at Kaiser Permanente, who recently spoke with HD Live! about the effects of the pandemic on mental health.

“It’s not like we were in good shape in terms of mental health” prepandemic, Mordecai said. From anxiety and depression to substance abuse and overdose, the pandemic is having an impact on what was already an increasing rate of mental health issues. However, Mordecai explained, the difference is a person does not need to become physically infected with COVID-19 to feel its effects on their mental health.

Prepandemic, one in five people were found to have a mental health condition, with less than half receiving any treatment, he said. Now that the stressor of COVID-19 has been introduced into everyone’s daily lives, mental health issues will only continue to worsen. With being confined to one’s home, having children who cannot go to school, and worrying about one’s own health, employment, money, bills, family, and loved ones, it is a “tremendously stressful” environment, Mordecai said. Frontline workers in health care settings are especially at high risk for mental health issues, including posttraumatic stress disorder, he added.

Maintaining and strengthening social bonds and connections, while keeping the recommended physical distance from others is a key aspect for improving overall mental health, Mordecai said. One of the best things a person can do to help another is to check in on and express concern for them, especially if they have a history of anxiety or depression. He suggested taking steps to ensure others are seeking treatment if needed and practicing self-care, such as with proper sleep, nutrition, and exercise.

Mindfulness, meditation, and yoga are also excellent ways to combat the stress of pandemic life, Mordecai noted. As for frontline health care workers, checking in on teammates and providing support to one another is imperative. “Sometimes the best way to take care of ourselves is to look after other people,” he said.

One way that Kaiser Permanente is providing mental and social health resources to its employees is through the use of digital therapeutics, such as the myStrength and Calm mobile device applications and the website FindYourWords.org. Additionally, Mordecai noted that the company recently partnered with an e-sports organization, Cloud9, which is helping to bring mental health awareness to young people who may be spending their time in quarantine playing games online.

While it remains to be seen how the pandemic will affect society in the long term, Mordecai said he sees hope in the resiliency of people and in bouncing back from this virus postpandemic. “When we look at studies of past natural disasters, pandemics, and things like that, most people do OK,” he said. “Which, I think, gives me some reason for optimism.”

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