The COVID pandemic is an epidemiological crisis, but also a psychological one.


We’ve just spent two months sheltering in place; our news feeds filled with sickness, death, fear.  This world pandemic can’t NOT impact us psychologically.

Data is showing increases in anxiety and depression: Nearly half of Americans report the coronavirus crisis is harming their mental health, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll. A federal emergency hotline for people in emotional distress registered a more than 1,000 percent increase in April compared with the same time last year. Last month, roughly 20,000 people texted that hotline, run by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.  Online therapy company Talkspace reported a 65 percent jump in clients since mid-February.

It makes sense, we’ve felt a collective loss of safety, loss of social connections, financial insecurity and unemployment.  People who are not used to feeling anxious might have felt anxious about many of these conditions, including getting COVID or loved ones recovering from COVID.

Our sense of self has been challenged – normal routines evaporated.  Teachers taught remotely, workers worked and oversaw kids’ school work.  Face-to-face supports for mental health and such moved to Telehealth or paused altogether.  Our new way of working and connecting through Zoom brought on fatigue and a collapse of self-complexity – work and family and friends were reduced to the same shared space.

Relationship stresses due to incompatibility became more glaring.  Increased cases of child abuse and domestic violence due to isolation; May 6, 2020 in Kane County Chronicle reported Kane County State’s Attorney Joe McMahon said his office has seen a 139% increase in child abuse and neglect cases.

Celebrations for birthdays, graduates and retirees were radically altered or did not occur.  Funerals were limited. Even without loss, we watched work, health care, education and economic systems destabilize.

When diseases strike, experts say, they cast a shadow pandemic of psychological and societal injuries. The shadow often trails the disease by weeks, months, even years. And it receives scant attention compared with the disease, even though it, too, wreaks carnage, devastates families, harms and kills.  We. Are. Here. Now.

Warning Signs

It is normal to have felt anxious or depressed at some point during this pandemic.  But it’s important to know the line between feeling dysregulated and experiencing a mental health crisis.

The Campaign to Change Direction is a great resource for bringing awareness to the “5 signs of emotional suffering.” You can go to their website and download posters to hang in your home or office.  Use it as a conversation starter.  (This website also features fantastic information on staying mentally healthy during the pandemic.)

These 5 signs indicate someone is in emotional pain and may need professional help.  These signs indicate a shift from feeling stressed or discontent to experiencing a mental health crisis.  And just like a physical health crisis of heart attack or stroke, a mental health crisis is not something to “treat at home.” Seek professional help!

Research has established a strong link between economic upheaval and suicide and substance use. A study of the Great Recession that began in late 2007 found that for every percentage point increase in the unemployment rate, there was about a 1.6 percent increase in the suicide rate.

Just as the country took drastic steps to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed by infections, experts say, it needs to brace for the coming wave of behavioral health needs.

If you are a manager, a business owner, or even a compassionate person, I implore you…ASK to those who are displaying any of the “5 signs”: Are you feeling hopeless?  Are you thinking about ending your life?  It is a MYTH that talking about suicide makes a suicidal person more likely to follow through.

This link is from a talk I gave to the St. Charles Chamber of Commerce, as part of their “Stronger Together STC” to help navigate and stay connected during COVID-19.  At the 33-minute mark, I share community mental health resources for the St. Charles area.

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