Andrew L. Martin, PsyD
“The mental health impact of the COVID-19 pandemic can persist and be long lasting for several years…”
– Karthirvel, N1
If you are emerging from the pandemic with less excitement than you thought you would, that is normal. In fact, about a third of us will experience lingering stress, generally lasting from one to three years after the end of the pandemic2. This is understandable, given all the stresses associated with a pandemic – lost loved ones, personal illness, loss of jobs, isolation, financial hardship or ruin, interruptions to worship and socializing, and relationship stress or failure1.
We know from past pandemics like the 2002 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome outbreak, that anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and post-traumatic stress are common following a pandemic.1,2 Indeed, early research results from China already indicate an increase in mental health problems associated with the pandemic there.3 Problems specific to the pandemic itself can include a lingering fear of infection, fear of touching surfaces, germ phobia, and fear that others might be infected. These reactions are most common for folks with pre-existing high anxiety about health, or a history of obsessive checking behavior. People may also continue to isolate themselves, even when no longer required or advised.2
The pandemic has been a BIG event and big, complicated events require time for adjustment. Acknowledging the enormity of the pandemic, and giving oneself time to adjust can be helpful. If anxiety, depressed mood, sleeping problems, irritability, or worry linger, it may be helpful to speak with a behavioral health professional. Unfortunately, there is currently a nationwide shortage of behavioral health professionals, just as we need them most. I’ve heard several reports of folks calling counseling offices and being told there will be a 2-3 month wait time, or getting no answer and no callback. When searching for a provider, it might be useful to remember there are several categories of behavioral health providers who can help – psychologists, clinical social workers, marriage and family therapists, mental health counselors, psychiatrists, and psychiatric nurses and physician assistants to name a few. Many of these professionals provide telehealth services for your convenience, and a new cooperative program between states is allowing behavioral health providers in one state to provide telehealth services to patients in another state.
If you must wait before seeing a care provider, remember how powerful self-care can be. In many cases, people who exercise regularly, eat a healthy diet, and participate in pleasant activities each day get the same short-term results as if they’d seen a mental health provider.
1Taylor, S., & Asmundson, G. J. (2020). Life in a post-pandemic world: What to expect of anxiety-related conditions and their treatment. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 72, 102231.
2 Kathirvel, N. (2020). Post COVID-19 pandemic mental health challenges. Asian journal of psychiatry.
3 Paluszek, M. M., Landry, C. A., Taylor, S., & Asmundson, G. J. (2020). The psychological sequelae of the COVID-19 pandemic: Psychological processes, current research ventures, and preparing for a post pandemic world. Behav. Ther, 43, 158-163.