The novel coronavirus is forcing people to stay home, hurting the economy, and making many feel uncertain. Some psychologists are concerned about the negative impact this could be having on mental health.
Dr. John Gallagher is a professor of social work at Indiana University South Bend, and works at Oaklawn Psychiatric Center in South Bend. He says the current atmosphere of isolation and uncertainty can increase anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts and drug relapses.
“This does have the potential to have devastating consequences," Gallagher says. "This pandemic was sudden. It was out of the blue and that in itself, from a mental health lense, makes it that much more concerning or dangerous.”
Gallagher says most mental health symptoms begin with a significant life stresser, like divorce, losing a job, or the loss of a loved one.
“In this situation, the significant life stresser, the sudden life stresser, is the pandemic,” he says.
He says the mental health impact should be taken just as seriously as physical health impacts from coronavirus.
Gallagher says one way to combat any adverse mental health affects during this crisis is to stay in touch with family and friends by video call.
“We are constantly hearing the message to socially distance ourself from others," he says. "From a mental health standpoint, I think that language, although it’s the norm, is incorrect. What we really want to send is the message of physical distancing.”
Rebecca Angel is a part-time clinical worker at A Beautiful Mind clinic in Mishawaka, she also teaches psychology at IU South Bend. She says going outside and having a sense of routine can also help protect mental health.
“We’re just coming out of the winter months and there’s this joy that people get around March and April like ‘yes, finally I can go outside,’ and to have this burden of having to stay at home and not do the activities they want, it can just be problematic,” Angel says.
She says while mental health is a big concern, she’s confident people can make a comeback.
“We’re adaptive creatures, we’re able to overcome difficulties," Angel says. "Most people are going to have that bounce back effect and that’s the beautiful thing about human beings.”
Angel says those who don’t have that bounce back effect and are struggling with mental health should use telemedicine mental health services. It allows clients to talk to mental health professionals on the phone or video chat.