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The U.S. Census Bureau recently reported that a third of Americans show signs of clinical depression and anxiety. These and other mental conditions are becoming amplified during the recent pandemic, while COVID-19 patients and their families are also at high risk to develop depression and anxiety.
“It’s quite understandable the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to cause significant stress and psychological distress for a large proportion of the population,” he says. “And we know the rates are progressively increasing.”
According to Dr. Fava, there are various factors related to COVID-19 that contribute to the increase in depression rates, including:
- Trauma from widespread disease
- Grief over losses of life
- Fear of getting sick
- Unprecedented physical distancing
- Financial concerns, including unemployment and housing insecurity
- Loss of community
- Reduced access to caregivers
But he notes that there are many resources for people suffering from mental health conditions, including mindfulness, telepsychiatry and other recommendations.
Physical distancing, in particular, has made the COVID-19 pandemic challenging for people with mental health conditions. People are not able to leave the home for support from their religious or spiritual community, for example. They may also be avoiding seeing their doctor. These things can lead to increasing rates of depression and anxiety.
Since it’s difficult to connect with others, Dr. Fava recommends that people get try to get a good night’s sleep, maintain good nutrition habits and stick with exercise routines to try to relax. There are also mindfulness apps like Evermind and Headspace that can help.
Telemedicine & Mental Health
“There is still a stigma to depression and anxiety. So many people experience this stress, anxiety and depression, and don't necessarily talk about it,” says Dr. Fava. His hope is that in 2020, as so many people are experiencing this, the increasing awareness and access to psychiatry will help remove that stigma.
In fact, COVID-19 has made it easier than ever to get treatment from a mental health provider via virtual visits. In March 2019, Mass General providers saw 5% of patients through telepsychiatry, either over video or phone calls. Since March 2020, they now see 97% of patients virtually.
“In psychiatry we don’t need to do physical examinations or procedures, and so delivery of care can be virtual,” Dr. Fava says. “We can reach our patients wherever they are to deliver care. It’s just as effective as in-person visits and patients like them.”
Patients no longer experience the added stress of driving to Mass General, finding parking, paying for gas and then repeating weekly or monthly, as they can now speak to their provider from their home via video chat or over the phone. And, again, Dr. Fava reports that these sessions are just as effective as in-person visits.
Resources for Mental Health
One of the best things anyone can do for friends, family or neighbors who may be suffering is to reach out, Dr. Fava says. “It has a positive effect.”
Additionally, the clinicians within the Department of Psychiatry have curated a Guide to Mental Health Resources that includes tips, blog posts, videos, apps and other resources for anyone looking for help coping.
“It’s okay to not feel okay,” Dr. Fava says. “This is a stress affecting all of us one way or another to different degrees.” And once you acknowledge that to yourself and to others, you can start to look for strategies and resources for treatment and better health.
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