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Mental Health and PTSD In Response to a Pandemic

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The COVID-19 pandemic is already impacting our collective mental health. Mental Health America saw a 19% increase in screening for anxiety in February alone—and that is from only one source. Anecdotally, I see that many people are struggling with increased anxiety and depression.

 As this is still ongoing, we may not have accurate data for a while about the impact on mental health. But we can learn from the data about previous epidemics, natural disasters, and other crises.  

Nearly 29% of people who responded to a survey about being quarantined due to SARS developed PTSD. 31.2% exhibited symptoms of depression. In a study on survivors of the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami, 11.3% had PTSD within six years. 

This is predicted to be particularly hard on mental health for certain segments of the population. Some examples are people with existing mental health disorders, grocery store employees, and healthcare workers. 

In a survey of 549 randomly selected employees of a hospital in Bejiing—among the areas most heavily affected by the SARS outbreak—10% had PTSD. The meditation app Headspace is now offering free memberships to healthcare workers, in anticipation of a greater need for its services.  

According to the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, a person’s perceptions about uncontrollability and unfamiliarity of a crisis affects their likelihood of developing PTSD. Perhaps this is why a lot of outlets are telling people to focus on the things they can control.

But I haven’t found this advice helpful; to me, it’s easier said than done. There are, however, some things I have found helpful.

Rather than focusing on things I can control, I’m trying to focus on things I enjoy. There might be some overlap between these two, but it changes the way I frame it. When I’m reading a good book, or watching a funny show, or FaceTiming with friends, I am not thinking about COVID-19.

There will still be time to read information to keep informed. But I figure anything I can do to ease the burden on my mental health for any amount of time is going to help in the long run.

Secondly, when I experience increased anxiety, I try to be gentle with myself. Studies have shown—but it also seems like common sense—that a person experiencing shame or stigma for their mental health disorder will suffer worse mental health.  

I know that a lot of news outlets, social media accounts and individual people are offering unsolicited advice about how to get through this hard time. But I think it’s important we recognize that there is hope. There are a lot of people helping each other through, like those all over the world from lower risk populations volunteering to deliver groceries to higher risk neighbors. And above all, there is always help. You are not alone.

At Amatus Recovery Centers across the country, our doors are still open to anyone suffering with a substance use or mental health disorder. We offer trauma-informed therapy and other treatments to help you work through trauma. We also offer individualized treatment plans and support systems to help you build healthy coping skills. If you are struggling, call an admissions specialist today at 410-593-0005.