As the pandemic persists almost a year later, its effects are taking a toll on mental health

Illustration by Emma DiMaggio.

The feelings of hopelessness, anguish, fear and sadness that have accompanied the pandemic and its effects, since it took hold of the nation almost a year ago, are also taking its toll on the mental health of many.

In August 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report that stated that in late June 2020, symptoms of anxiety disorder and depressive disorder grew considerably in the United States in comparison with the same time period the previous year. 

Representative panel surveys were conducted among adults 18 and over across the country at the end of June, where 40% of those surveyed reported “considerably elevated adverse mental health conditions” associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In the report, greater numbers of Black and Hispanic people reported feeling negative mental health symptoms, increased substance use and elevated suicide ideation. 

A current look at how the pandemic is affecting the mental health of a sample of people living in Los Angeles County can be viewed through USC’s Center for Economic and Social Research’s Understanding Coronavirus in America tracking survey.

According to the tracker, which surveyed over 1,000 Los Angeles residents, 37.7% of those surveyed reported mild to severe psychological distress as of Monday, Jan, 18.

Noah Warren, business development director for Roots Through Recovery in Long Beach, an outpatient treatment center that provides healing and wellness to those experiencing drug or alcohol addiction, trauma, other mental health issues and chronic pain, says he has seen an increase in the need for services when it comes to mental health.

“Usually around the holidays we see a dip in phone calls just because people don’t want to be in treatment during the holidays, this year, we saw a huge spike,” Warren said.

He added, “We treat both substance use disorders and mental health, and [I’ve] definitely seen most of the calls coming are mental health related.”

Warren noted that Roots Through Recovery’s clientele is mostly women in their 30’s.

Although no specific reasons were given as to why more women are seeking treatment, the economic impacts of the pandemic on women offer some insight into possible stressors.

A January 2021 report from the National Women’s Law Center said that women lead in terms of pandemic-related job losses. Since February 2020, women lost more than 5.4 million net jobs and make up 55% of net job loss since the beginning of the pandemic.

The same report noted that in December 2020, unemployment for Black women ages 20 and over was at 8.4%, 9.1% for Latinx women and 11.4% for women with disabilities in comparison to the unemployment rate for white men in the same age group, which stood at 5.8%.

https://nwlc.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/December-Jobs-Day.pdf

A Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) report from August 2020 stated that Health Tracking Polls from the foundation found that women more often report “negative mental health impacts due to worry and stress from COVID-19 than men 57% versus 50%, respectively.”

Warren said that isolation, financial issues and the inability to control something that is affecting people’s lives in a significant way is having an impact on mental health. 

“I think that the thing that people are really struggling with, obviously the isolation, not being able to be around their loved ones and you add on financial issues, people losing their jobs and things like that,” Warren said. “But I think the thing that we’ve seen impact people’s mental health is that this is something that they have zero control over, and affects their life so much.”

The same KFF report collected data from late March 2020 said that as many states were issuing stay-at-home orders, it found that 47% of those sheltering in place reported feeling negative mental health effects that stemmed from worry or stress related to the pandemic. 

https://www.kff.org/coronavirus-covid-19/issue-brief/the-implications-of-covid-19-for-mental-health-and-substance-use/

According to Warren, Roots Through Recovery’s approach includes trying to refocus on things people can control.

“What we do is really try to get people to focus on the things that they can control in the situation [and] find the things that are positive in their life to shift their thinking from focusing on all of these negative feelings and the things that are going wrong in their life, and really focus on the things that they can change, things that they can control, the things that are good.”

Because of the distress that has accompanied the pandemic, recognizing the signs of depression can be a challenge.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, experiencing feelings of hopelessness and pessimism, difficulty getting out of bed and loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies or activities almost every day for at least two weeks can be symptoms of depression.

“It’s hard to spot because a lot of people are feeling those things, people that aren’t depressed, so it is a challenge,” Warren said. “If people are feeling like they might be depressed or are experiencing anxiety, it’s definitely advised that they reach out to somebody and find out if it’s something that is just feelings that are coming along with the pandemic, or if they really do have clinical depression or anxiety.”

As news of rising COVID-19 cases continues to pour in in the Southern California Region, Warren recommended a few things to help people take care of their mental health.

Focusing on self care, finding things like meditation, mindfulness,” Warren said. “Even if you are at home and can’t do the things that you used to enjoy doing, finding new hobbies, things that you can enjoy while you’re at home, connecting to people on zoom, or, you know, they even have support groups for people that maybe don’t have a mental health disorder but are just looking to connect with people.”

Warren noted that the pandemic and the social isolation that comes with a safer-at-home order almost a year later has been hard even for someone like him who has been in the mental wellness field for a really long time.  

“Something that I tell people is just reminding yourself [that] we’re all going through this. You’re not alone, and it will end at some point,” Warren said of the pandemic. 

For more information about Roots Through Recovery you can visit their website at roots-recovery.com or call them at 562-249-5731.

If you or a loved one are in need of emergency services:

Connect with a trained crisis counselor at the Crisis Text Line. Text LA to 741-741.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 800-273-TALK (8255).
Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health:
Emergency and Non-Emergency Hotline: 1-800-854-7771
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