Bracing for the next COVID-19 mental health wave

Gulfport mental health therapist encourages bereaved family of COVID-19 victims to seek help when struggling with prolonged grief

(Gulfport, MS) - Mental health experts are bracing for a “second wave” of psychological challenges due to the unrelenting impact of COVID-19.

As with the first wave, the upcoming increase in mental health and substance abuse disorders will disproportionately impact Blacks and Hispanic individuals, older adults, low socioeconomic groups of all races and ethnicities, and health care workers. The data comes from a JAMA study, which based its findings on a June 2020 survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of more than 5,400 adults.

Gulfport mental health therapist Jocelyn Gavin-Lane said she anticipates seeing pandemic-driven mental health issues for years to come.

“A lot has happened to people,” said Gavin-Lane, owner of Premier Counseling Services, a seven-member practice in Gulfport. “People have suffered a loss of jobs, income, death, divorce and friendships. There have been many moving pieces and people have had to go into virtual spaces and not socialize as they have done in the past. That brings about a lot of anxiety.”

Data from the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) study of 5412 US adults showed that 40.9% of respondents reported “at least one adverse mental or behavioral health condition,” including depression, anxiety, posttraumatic stress, and substance abuse, with rates that were 3 to 4 times the rates 1 year earlier. More than 10 percent of those responding had “seriously considered suicide in the last 30 days,” of the survey.

Researchers said stress from the sudden interpersonal loss associated with COVID-19, along with severe social disruption, was threatening to overwhelm the ways individuals and families cope with bereavement. One of the most significant concerns was the transformation of normal grief and distress into “prolonged grief and major depressive disorder” and post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms.

According to the study, because each COVID-19 death leaves an estimated nine family members bereaved, there are an estimated 2 million bereaved individuals in the U.S. Thus, the effect of COVID-19 deaths on mental health will be profound.

Gavin Lane said the major problem associated with prolonged grief disorder is that once it is established, the feelings of emotional pain, avoidance, loneliness and difficulty re-engaging can become chronic, increasing the chances of negative coping measures such as substance abuse. Prolonged grief affects approximately 10% of bereaved individuals, but this is likely an underestimate for grief related to deaths from COVID-19.

“Your grief doesn’t have to be related to a death either,” Gavin-Lane said. “It can be related to a loss of your normal. There is a lot of anxiety, stress, and depression in households because we cannot be who we were in society and do what we want to do. We are not a nation of people who are unable to do what we want to do. People are starting to rebel and have cabin fever and now we have the holidays and are supposed to be giving thanks for things but to do things virtually. A lot of people are reporting being numb and forgetful. A lot of people are just walking around in a complete daze.”

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