Recovering from the Mental Health Fallout of the Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the lives of everyday Americans for 13 months and counting. Many people have endured stress and trauma. According to Archana Basu of Harvard University's T.H. Chan School of Public Health, this could result in long-term and deep mental health effects on a large proportion of Americans. In a story published in the New Yorker on March 30, Dr. Basu detailed how the pandemic has created new and worse mental health problems and what people can do in order to seek and maintain mental wellness.

Types of Mental Health Problems Caused by the COVID-19 Pandemic

Mental health problems caused by the COVID-19 pandemic are pervasive, says Dr. Basu, who is a clinical psychologist at Massachusetts General Hospital. As a research scientist at Harvard University T.H.Chan School of Public Health in the Department of Epidemiology, Dr. Basu is researching how the pandemic is affecting the mental health of children and adults. In adults, worse anxiety, depression and self-injuring behaviors are the most common mental health problems caused by the pandemic. Children have experienced sleep problems, weight gain, anger, low motivation for school, increased anger and a loss of interest in spending time with friends or doing their favorite activities.

How to Buffer a Child's Mental Health

According to Dr. Basu, the best buffer for a child is a supportive living environment. It should include adults who coordinate routines and provide structure. Children need a sense of stability and predictability to their days. Dr. Basu noted that the current mental healthcare system was at or beyond capacity before the COVID-19 pandemic started. Now, more people, especially children, will need access to preventive care and mental health treatment.

How to Protect a Teenager's Mental Health

Teenagers have more awareness of what's going on in the world. They've likely seen the death statistics and perhaps seen coverage of people being wheeled out of hospitals and nursing homes in body bags. Teens may have also seen the civil unrest from the summer of 2020 and the insurrection at the Capitol on January 6. This can cause trauma and anxiety in teenagers. The teenage years are already a difficult time. Caregivers should have regular conversations about emotional health with teens. Doing so will reduce the stigma of admitting feelings of anxiousness, nervousness, depression or thoughts of self-harm.

Physical Health Directly Impacts Mental Health

The closure of schools, rec centers and places of amusement for the past year made it difficult for children and adults alike to get exercise. Many people have gained weight, lost stamina and experienced other negative physical health effects from the pandemic. Dr. Basu suggests renewing focus on exercise. It's a proven fact that daily exercise helps the brain release endorphins. These neurotransmitters cause feelings of happiness. Caregivers and kids can exercise together. A bike ride, swimming, a hike through a local park, basketball, kickball or playing with Frisbees are just a few things that household members can do together.

Resume Old Routines

As more adults get vaccinated, families may be able to do more, which will help reduce the isolation caused by the pandemic. Public health experts predict that if enough people get vaccinated and continue adhering to social distancing and mask-wearing recommendations, Independence day parties may be a reality this summer. People need something to look forward to, and the ability to go to a July 4th parade, watch fireworks with friends or have a barbecue may be just what everyone needs. While some things may be permanently different, such as the plexiglass at store checkout counters, some parts of life may be able to return to normal. A sense of normalcy will work wonders for people with anxiety, especially severe anxiety that intermixes with depression.

Increase Caregiver Mental Health Support

Many parents kept some of the worst parts of the COVID-19 pandemic hidden from their children's eyes. Parents may have worried about a job loss. Perhaps a parent's coworker or good friend died, and no funeral or celebration of life could be held at the time. Parents and caregivers also need emotional and mental health support. Just like flight attendants tell caregivers to apply their own oxygen mask before assisting anyone else, caregivers need to keep their own mental wellness in mind. It's not possible to support the wellness of a child unless the caregiver also has what they need in order to be emotionally well.

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