Even if it feels like we are in “post-pandemic” times, we’re certainly not. Not only are case rates still high, we’re seeing mental health implications. Therapists are just starting to unpack the last two years with their clients.
Experts are working harder than ever trying to accommodate patients with spiking mental health concerns as a result of the ripple effects of COVID-19. In addition to grief, depression, anxiety and more, here are some of the themes they’re commonly seeing in their sessions:
If you and your significant other have spent every day working, living and quarantining together for the better part of two years, you might have seen issues come to light that weren’t there pre-pandemic. Josh Jonas, a psychotherapist in New York City at The Village Institute, said this is a common concern among people now.
“Relationships are very much suffering now that we’ve kind of gotten into this new normal of being around each other all the time … working from home. So now we get to the real difficult parts of relationships,” he explained.
A regular theme he’s seeing is some partners needing freedom and others not understanding why they’re not feeling connected. The split of household labor, differing risk tolerances and other issues have also come up. Contradicting data shows that researchers aren’t sure yet if the pandemic is causing divorce rates to soar or fall, but it’s a trend we will know more about with time.
Parents Worried About Their Kids Feeling Off Or Behind
The education gap for children in and out of classrooms, navigating virtual learning, and being left without their usual educational supports is apparent in therapy.
“With the kids, some of the biggest things we’re seeing is general increased anxiety, depression, a lot of worry about school, and a lot of kids really got off track during COVID and do not feel like they’ve been able to recover,” said Dr. Lateefah Watford, an Atlanta-based child psychiatrist through Kaiser Permanente.
This is a particular challenge for students and their families who have always been “high achievers,” who haven’t really struggled academically before, she added. And it’s not just academics — students who have missed major social milestones are grieving those losses, and feeling like the transition “back to normal” is abrupt.
Lara Goodrich, a psychologist in Madison, Connecticut, said that teenagers especially missed major milestones in high school, then were thrust into the college scene unprepared.
“Pretty much all of them have reflected on what it was like to have this loss of their later years of high school … many of them feel like they’re behind in their emotional and social maturity as college students,” she said.
People often reminisce or talk about that fateful day in March 2020 when everything shut down. The shift out of normal life ― without notice and indefinitely ― is still being discussed in therapists’ offices.
Goodrich said that unmasking is causing a similar feeling, triggering people who were very comfortable masking to again sense that anything can change in an instant. “It was like a sudden shift where it felt like things change on a dime,” she said. “And then they found themselves needing to make some really tough decisions about how they operated in the world [after mask mandates lifted].”
This sense of uncertainty causes people to make decisions out of fear, a trend she is seeing. “I try to help somebody separate their thoughts and emotions apart from things that are being driven by fear — [those] aren’t decisions that necessarily hold water long-term for us, as they tend to be reactive or impulsive,” she said, adding that while pandemic-based fears are valid, people are struggling to shift to other decision-making processes now.
Anxiety Around Money, Career Shifts And Burnout
The last two years have led to a career reckoning. For 9.5 million people, regaining jobs lost during the early pandemic months wasn’t immediate, nor was it easy. Others grappled with burnout. Many struggled to make ends meet.
One group who experienced much of this is health care workers. Watford said many of her health care clients are starting to cut their hours where possible due to sheer exhaustion.
Watford added that there can also be feelings that come up returning to an office that is far from “business as usual.” The risk of COVID when returning to work and interacting with others can be a source of anxiety. For those who never left in-person work, these fears have been prevalent for quite some time and will continue to be.
Finally, Watford noted that governmental support during the pandemic was, for some, “better than what they would get breaking their back at jobs that pay minimum wage.” When that disappeared, it caused many people to have to balance their family’s basic health and food security needs with the “reality of working 80-90 hours per week.”
This continues to be a source of stress and there’s a real need for reform. “We have to recognize that I think there are jobs, but I don’t know that the jobs are the same anymore,” Watford explained.
If you are experiencing mental health concerns, each of our contributing experts emphasized the importance of reaching out to a mental health professional. If that’s an obstacle, try speaking with your general physician as soon as possible; they may be able to connect you with mental health help. (Here are a few other affordable options as well.)
“Even if you don’t think you exactly fit into the box of depression, don’t keep suffering,” Goodrich said. There’s power in addressing the strife we’ve all endured over the last few years.
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