By Bart Magee, Ph.D.
Now, almost two months into COVID-19 quarantine and lockdown, there’s still plenty of bad news to go around. With little in the way of a roadmap out of the crisis, the psychological toll grows by the day. More than half of Americans now say that the pandemic is negatively impacting their mental health. A new wave of mental illness is inevitable and we will need to muster tremendous resources, creativity, and leadership to confront it. So much to think about, but not my topic today. Rather, I’d like to focus on a related subject, one that I believe could help us in the coming struggle. I’m calling it “the lockdown teaching moment.”
Since the COVID-19 Pandemic hit the Bay Area in March, Access Institute’s mental health providers have been on the front lines of the response to the crisis. In the past few weeks we have seen how the economic devastation, along with the isolation brought on by stay at home orders, has impacted the people who were already managing mental illness and economic vulnerability.
Dear Access Institute Community,
Throughout the first month of the “Shelter in Place” order, Access Institute responded to the needs of the hundreds of people served by its programs. We’re ensuring that everyone continues to have access to their mental health care. Now, we are stepping up that care as the needs for emotional and psychological support become even more critical. We know that we serve vulnerable groups of individuals, families, children, and seniors, so it’s no surprise to find that approximately 85% of them lost their jobs, lost income, or someone in their household lost employment or income. Many of the rest are working, but are employed in low-wage jobs where they are exposed to the virus on a daily basis. We have observed these direct impacts on the psychological and emotional health of our patients, including: increased symptoms of anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. For most of these individuals, the stresses related to the COVID-19 Pandemic (fear of illness, economic hardship, social isolation) have exacerbated previous mental health challenges. Those who previously suffered traumatic life events (i.e. loss of employment or housing, a life-threatening illness or injury, loss of a parent or primary caregiver, sexual assault, or domestic violence) are more vulnerable to adverse mental health effects brought on by the Pandemic.
By Bart Magee, Ph.D.
The failure of a timely and effective public health response to the COVID-19 pandemic has forced all of us to adopt extreme measures to limit the spread of the virus. While these measures can be successful in “flattening the curve” of new infections, they’ve been taken with little thought or preparation for their mental health consequences. Our new environment of social isolation and anxiety, mixed with misinformation and confusion, creates the perfect kindling for a mental illness bonfire.