Coronavirus has significantly increased the need for psychological first aid and other mental health services.
As the coronavirus is sweeping across the nation, causing much panic and uncertainty, experts say there has been a growing sense of community, a need for timely information, and a heightened need for mental health services.
Many schools have transitioned to an online format, and parents are left without options as care centers are closing and they need to stay home with their kids, trying to learn the ropes of the programs typically administered during the day. Many after school activities, parks, and play centers are closing their doors to the public, with fast food restaurants opting to transition to drive thru only and grocery stores running out of essentials.
Due to the closures, students have been adversely impacted as well.
“We’ve seen a growing amount of concern from students regarding their health and safety,” said Kayla Freeman, a Counseling Center Social Worker at the University of Michigan-Flint. “And that’s understandable given some of the uncertainty.” Freeman added, the concerns are causing significant stress and are impacting mental health.
“Depression and anxiety, but it can range for a variety of reasons and in levels of severity,” said Freeman.
While the university has suspended face-to-face classes, Freeman said her department is still “all-hands-on deck and available for students who might be overwhelmed by the situation.” She said, “We would be concerned if it impacts their functioning. If we’re seeing an impairment or impact in relationships, job performance, school performance, or more personal challenges. Sleep, eating, appetite difficulties and that’s where we’re going to become more concerned about a more clinical level of anxiety or impairment…Racing thoughts, rapid heartbeat and cold sweats are just a few symptoms of someone having a panic attack.”
She encourages U-M students and the public at large to see a counselor if symptoms become overwhelming and don’t seem to want to go away. Heading to a primacy care physician first for an evaluation can help individuals determine if mental health services should be sought.
Recently, the World Health Organization (WHO) issued new mental health guidelines for practitioners amid the coronavirus pandemic. Some of these are simply self-care strategies that tend to go by the wayside until they’re very much needed. WHO states, “Take care of your basic needs and employ helpful coping strategies – ensure rest and respite during work or between shifts, eat sufficient and healthy food, engage in physical activity, and stay in contact with family and friends. Avoid using unhelpful coping strategies such as tobacco, alcohol or other drugs. In the long term, these can worsen your mental and physical well-being. This is a unique and unprecedent scenario for many workers, particularly if they have not been involved in similar responses. Even so, using the strategies that you have used in the past to manage times of stress can benefit you now. The strategies to benefit feelings of stress are the same, even if the scenario is different.”
Psychiatry professor Rima Styra and her University of Toronto colleague Laura Hawryluck, a professor of critical care medicine, researched quarantines during the SARS outbreak. They concluded “29% of those quarantined showed signs of PTSD, and 31% had symptoms of depression following isolation.”
“Our study really pointed to the importance of reliable, consistent information and updates so that people can understand what we know, what we don’t know and how we are trying to close this gap,” the professors said. Psychological first aid, thus, has become a critical need during times of ambiguity.