COVID-19 is impacting people around the world in so many different ways. The global pandemic has shifted the public consciousness and many people are plagued with uncertainty about their job, finances and the state of our world moving forward. For those experiencing mental health conditions, the stress from COVID-19 can exacerbate their conditions. A recently published paper from the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Psychiatry indicates that worrying could worsen anxiety and depressive symptoms. The paper also indicates that the rise of social distancing could increase feelings of isolation and loneliness among those with chronic mental health issues. It may be plausible to assume that the traumatic events that many are experiencing, from serious illness to the death of a loved one, may contribute to the onset of a chronic mental condition. “[COVID-19] has caused anxiety for a lot of people, especially if you already have anxiety to begin with. So now…your life is being changed in such a short amount of time—you have to transition everything. You’re kind of being forced to stay at home…for some people…you may have small children and now you’re homeschooling…it’s causing a lot of stress for a lot of people because every single day, the news is changing…when you can’t be around your community…you can’t be around your family, you can’t be around your friends…now you have this worry like ‘what if?’ We’re seeing the numbers rise of infected cases…we don’t know when there’s an end to this. Not knowing and not having answers is causing anxiety for people,” indicated licensed therapist Marline Francois-Madden.
One 1920s study conducted after the influenza panic of 1918 found that following a pandemic, suicide rates increased. People cope in different ways. What is desperately needed is methods to manage mental health and the stress that COVID-19 has brought on many individuals, business owners, and healthcare workers. Reports indicate that women are the ones directly on the frontline and comprise 70% of the world’s healthcare staff. It’s critical to understand the different experiences of women during this global pandemic. Marline shared, “you have the working professional mom who’s now at home with her kids. Trying to navigate how do I help my child do their schoolwork but also, I have to join this WebEx meeting every two hours…trying to figure out how do I balance work meetings and also taking care of my kids, but also finding time for self-care…there’s a lot of messaging saying ‘you’ve been home for weeks…you need to be up early, being productive’…yet we’re not giving people the space or the grace to transition…people feeling like ‘I just want to rest and relax’ but feel guilty for not being as productive as the next person.” Many women feel pressured to not only take care of their families during this time but to also be productive and stay focused on work. Now more than ever, women should be prioritizing their self-care.
Marline is the author of a book called The State of Black Girls, which focuses on empowering Black girls to overcome their past traumas. Marline gave some advice for those from marginalized communities who may be experiencing the compound effects of the virus along with systemic and structural issues. “One of the things I will say is [that] it’s okay to seek professional help. Think of therapists who [are] culturally responsive. Having someone who understands the dynamic…especially as Black women. And then also…women that are being marginalized…[women] that have to be home now, but they’re concerned about their bills.” It’s vital to understand how people within marginalized communities are coping with COVID-19—those in lower income communities may be disproportionately impacted by the virus because of underlying health issues. Marline explained, “we already know there’s a lot of equity gaps. One of the things we have to mindful of is…there’s going to be certain layers of stressors. We have this whole stressor of social distancing but looking at how is our health to begin with, if we’re already struggling with hypertension, diabetes, certain mental health stressors…anxiety or depression…financially [some] can’t afford to be home…have a therapist who understands those dynamics and layers…it’s also important for us to have support groups. Creating virtual support groups with other people who may have similar journeys and stories like we have. If you’re a healthcare professional that’s an essential worker and you’re leaving out of the home and you can’t be around family or small children, finding a support group as far as other healthcare professionals…I think it’s important for those who have access to things to open up the door for other people. Now is the time for people to really reach out to people and say ‘hey, I saw this resource available. I think it would be very helpful and beneficial for you.’