Written by Emily King

A year ago, did you think you would spend the greater part of 2020 distancing from loved ones and wearing masks in public? For most people, facing a global pandemic was not in their plans. It’s completely expected that you might be cycling through negative feelings like stress, disappointment and loneliness.

However, for a growing part of the population, mental health conditions like anxiety, depression and other issues have made it very difficult to function normally in everyday life. We spoke with Julie Palmer, a certified registered nurse practitioner (CRNP) at Washington Health System to discuss the rising numbers of mental health conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“At first it wasn’t clear but as the pandemic wavered on it became more evident.  People who had not required psychiatric treatment prior have presented for evaluation and treatment of psychiatric symptoms,” says Palmer.

Anxiety, depression and substance abuse have been the most common issues. But Palmer is also seeing people experiencing grief, loneliness and even OCD. Even those who were already undergoing treatment for mental health conditions are experiencing an uptick in symptoms.

“Stress is typically something that can exacerbate symptoms of those already being treated for mental health conditions.  The loneliness and feelings of isolation that many are experiencing with pandemic-related lifestyle changes are certainly contributing,” Palmer notes.

Anyone can experience mental health issues, but there do seem to be certain groups of people that are being affected at a higher rate. Healthcare workers, other essential workers, children and the elderly are more vulnerable to these issues for various reasons. Perhaps one of the most affected populations are young adults, who are experiencing higher rates of suicide.

If you are experiencing symptoms of anxiety, depression or any other mental health issues, your first priority is to discuss it them with your doctor. They can help you explore your options which may include counseling, medication and/or lifestyle changes. Beyond that, there are many things you can do to lessen feelings of stress and loneliness.

  • Follow CDC guidelines like socially distancing and wearing masks. These actions can make you feel like you have some control over the health of others and yourself.
  • Exercise can make a world of difference in your mood. Taking physical care of yourself is so important to mental health. Exercise, eat well and get enough sleep.
  • Limit the amount of news and social media that you consume. Focus on facts.
  • Find creative ways to get social. Form an online book club with friends, do a virtual fitness class, set up video chats with family.
  • Get outside as much as you can. When it feels like your whole world has changed, it’s a nice reminder that nature stays the same.
  • Enjoy new hobbies that you can focus on to get your mind off of everything else.
  • Reach out to family and friends for support.

One of the most important things we can do as a society is to lessen the stigma of mental illness.

“I think the more people who are willing to discuss mental health issues as they would other health issues such as blood pressure, the less shameful or embarrassing it will be,” says Palmer. People might be more likely to seek help.

If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest hospital. Otherwise, contact your primary care doctor to start the conversation.

WHS Physician Referral Line (724) 250-4310