Staying well – in body and mind: How the pandemic has affected our mental health, and what we can do about it
Special to The Union
Depression: Don’t Miss the Signs
Depression can be life-threatening and unfortunately often goes undiagnosed for months or years. Some of the warning signs can include:
• Unexplained aches and pains
• Concentration problems
• Reckless Behavior
• Loss of Energy
• Anger or Irritability
• Sleep Changes
• Appetite or Weight Changes
• Loss of interest in daily activities
• Feelings of helplessness or hopelessness
If you or someone you know is experiencing these symptoms, seek help immediately. Call the Nevada County Crisis Line (530-265-5811) or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255).
The COVID-19 pandemic has truly turned the world upside down for most people. Our work lives have changed; our social lives are altered; our children’s education looks different; and, perhaps most significantly, we are all experiencing a new and unending burden of worry and stress.
Not surprisingly, all of this has taken a toll on our mental health. According to a Journal of the American Medical Association study released in September, rates of depression diagnoses among American adults have tripled during the pandemic, from 8.5% to 27.8%.
“The current pandemic has led to unprecedented disruptions in our daily lives, as well as uncertainty about our financial and political structure as a country,” says Dr. Nathan Claydon, Chief Hospitalist at Dignity Health Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital. “Fear of the unknown can be overwhelming and lead to strong emotions in adults and children.”
Dr. Claydon says unfortunately, some of the very things that are meant to keep us safe and prevent the spread of the virus (social distancing, bans on gatherings, etc.) can contribute to our mental health challenges.
“Although important, public health actions (like social distancing, quarantining, and mask-wearing} can lead to significant feelings of isolation and loneliness and can increase stress and anxiety,” he explains.
Dr. Claydon says some of the pandemic-related symptoms he is seeing in patients right now are:
• Changes in sleep and eating patterns
• Fears about one’s own health or health of a loved one
• Fears about a financial situation or the loss of a support system
• Worsening chronic health problems
• Increased use of tobacco and/or alcohol and other substances
And it’s not just our mental health that is affected: Dr. Claydon points out that declining mental health can negatively affect our physical health, too. To prevent that, he encourages patients to maintain regular physicals and follow-ups with doctors, and to seek medical attention at the hospital if needed.
“This pandemic has created a large amount of uncertainty across many of the most important aspects of our lives,” Dr. Claydon says. “Having simultaneous fears about your health, the health of loved ones, income stability, and social isolation within regional threats such as wildfires can lead to increased stress and anxiety which may result in clinical depression, substance abuse and other serious mental health disorders.”
Even people who have previously considered themselves to be happy, well-adjusted and content with are at risk of suffering from a mental health disorder right now, according to Dr. Claydon. He says one of the greatest challenges for people suffering from mental illness can be recognizing the symptoms and knowing where to go for help.
“I encourage patients to be open and honest with your primary doctor about how the pandemic has impacted you, in small and large ways,” he explains. “Having a professional walk with you though your personal experience with this crisis may help to identify serious mental health red flags as well as opportunities for counseling and treatment.”
Dr. Claydon encourages everyone to watch for warning signs, in yourself and in others. These can include: withdrawal from others; feelings or statements of hopelessness; increased alcohol or drug use; dramatic mood changes; feelings or statements that reflect not having a reason to live or a sense of purpose; threats to kill or harm; talking or writing about death, dying or suicide.
If you see these signs, reach out for help immediately. Dr. Claydon recommends the Nevada County Crisis Line (530-265-5811) or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255).
If you feel your mental health is declining, there are steps you can take to try and address it. Dr. Claydon recommends starting with getting enough sleep and doing some sort of daily physical activity. Eating nutritious meals and avoiding tobacco, drugs, and alcohol can also help. He also advises people of all ages to limit their screen time – including taking breaks from social media and the news.
Finally, Dr. Claydon encourages everyone to take time to relax and recharge.
“While we are currently faced with many challenges, we are blessed to live in a naturally beautiful area,” he says. “There are many kind and compassionate community members. These are challenging times for everyone. Let’s continue to treat each other with kindness and respect. Be patient with those around you, for you don’t always know what burdens they are carrying alone.”
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