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  • Anjali Gupta

Mental Health During This Pandemic

You may have experienced some anxiety and depression symptoms during this pandemic. Acute stressful events including wrongful deaths, protests that have turned violent, and military guard across cities in our country may have triggered or exacerbated further symptoms. How do you know if your anxiety or depression symptoms are part of a normal stress reaction or if you should seek treatment?

Q & A Today:

Dr. Stacey Kaltman, Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Georgetown University

What are symptoms of depression?  What are symptoms of anxiety?

Symptoms of depression include low mood and a lack of interest in previously enjoyed activities. Individuals with depression can also experience changes in appetite (i.e., loss of appetite or overeating) and sleep (i.e., disruptions to sleep or sleeping too much). Negative self-thoughts, low energy, and difficulty concentrating are also common symptoms. One of the most concerning

symptoms of depression is having thoughts that life is no longer worth living which can, at times, lead individuals to think about harming themselves. In terms of anxiety, symptoms can include feeling nervous or on edge and experiencing uncontrolled worry. Individuals who are experiencing anxiety can also have difficulty relaxing as well as feeling restless and/or irritable.

How do people know if their symptoms are within normal limits of reactions to stress or more than that? How do you know if you should seek treatment?

That’s a really great question because experiencing these symptoms is a normal human experience, especially during these unusual and difficult times. Many people have experienced periods of low mood and feeling anxious since the pandemic began. There has been a lot of loss associated with the pandemic including the loss of loved ones, job loss, loss of celebrations like weddings, and

graduations, and just the general sense that life as we knew it has been lost. These types of losses can trigger low mood. Similarly, the pandemic feels uncontrollable and is associated with a lot of uncertainty, which can trigger feelings of anxiety. These are expected responses and for many people pass relatively quickly or come and go with little disruption to their ability to function at work or home. Beyond the pandemic, the wrongful deaths of black Americans at the hands of the police and the systemic racism that is being protested in cities across the country are further stressors with the potential to negatively impact mental health.

Symptoms are more suggestive of a treatable condition such as major depressive disorder or generalized anxiety disorder when a number of the symptoms are present for a sustained period of time and cause impairments to an individual’s ability to function. Individuals with this level of symptoms and impairment should seek treatment. And, anyone experiencing thoughts that life is no longer worth living or thoughts about self-harm, should seek care immediately. The good news is that we have effective treatments, both pharmacological and psychological, for these conditions.

What are some tips for people who may have already been in treatment prior to this pandemic?

Individuals who have previously suffered from anxiety or depression in the past are at more risk for experiencing difficulties triggered by subsequent stressors. It is important for these individuals to do things that they know are helpful such as reestablishing good self-care, maintaining social connections, and reengaging treatment, if symptoms return.

What are some tips for people without a prior history of treatment who are experiencing symptoms now?

Good self-care is always the right thing to do but especially now. This can include eating healthy foods, exercising, moving throughout the day, sleeping well, and connecting with others. Activities that feel restorative and bring joy are important parts of self-care. Beyond a good self-care routine, things that can be helpful include: establishing and sticking to a routine, limiting media exposure,

getting outside, focusing on things that are controllable, and having self-compassion and compassion for others.

How do people connect for telehealth treatment amidst the pandemic?

Most mental health providers are seeing their patients remotely via telehealth platforms. This is a silver lining of the pandemic. For years, mental health professionals have been seeking to increase the use of telehealth to provide mental health care, but insurance and licensing issues have previously hindered widespread adoption. These barriers have been removed, at least temporarily, but I hope that we will learn from this experience that provision of care via telehealth is effective and should be continued beyond the pandemic. In terms of identifying a provider, there are a few routes to pursue. If you already know of a provider, you can contact them directly. If you don’t know of a provider, you can ask your primary care provider for referrals, you can contact your insurance company, or you can use online searches and directories.

Thank you to Dr. Kaltman for the inspiration!

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