Lockdown isolation creates mental health crisis


MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: It’s Thursday the 19th of November, 2020.

Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Megan Basham.

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: And I’m Myrna Brown. First up: the pandemic’s toll on mental health.

Before 2020, 40 million Americans suffered from anxiety disorders. Another 17 million dealt with depression.

BASHAM: Now, the COVID-19 pandemic and all of the uncertainties and challenges that have come with it are growing those numbers. 

WORLD’s Sarah Schweinsberg reports.

SARAH SCHWEINSBERG, REPORTER: Ellen Tant never thought her mental health needed attention. 

TANT: I was very, you know, extroverted, outgoing, loved being around people and no one else would have ever picked up on the fact that I was kind of had my own inner world going on. 

Last year, a series of circumstances started drawing out that inner world until it was affecting Tant’s outer world. 

TANT: I was like this vicious cycle of where, okay, I’m too anxious to stay in bed but I’m too depressed to get out of bed.

So Tant went to see a clinical therapist. He diagnosed her with anxiety and depression. He also gave her tools to deal with the symptoms. Things were looking up. 

Then, in February, Tant moved to a new city to be closer to her fiancé. Just three weeks later, COVID-19 lockdowns began.  

TANT: Moving right before a pandemic is not something I would recommend.

Tant had moved in with her fiance’s grandmother. But she didn’t want to risk exposing her to the virus. So she moved out but then couldn’t find an apartment building that would take a new renter. 

TANT: So I literally was house hopping for two and a half months. That in and of itself was awful. And when I moved here, I also didn’t have a therapist lined up right away. So I was then going without therapy for several months.

Tant began having panic attacks. And as a stress reliever, she started overspending on clothes and groceries. 

TANT: I would buy like $300 worth of groceries because I was so stressed about not having enough food or not being able to take care of myself. 

Not surprisingly, 2020 has been a hard year for people already suffering from mental illness. But it also has created anxiety and depression in people who had never suffered from them before. 

GUTHRIE: Even before the covid 19 pandemic, there was a trend in the United States of increasing cases of depression and anxiety.

Doctor Joseph Guthrie specializes in psychiatry and is a member of the Christian Medical and Dental Associations. 

GUTHRIE: That trend has certainly continued upward with social upheaval, loss of jobs, the loss of loved ones. We see an increase in the amount of depression, anxiety and stress in our country.

In June, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducted a mental health survey. Nearly one-third of American adults reported struggling with symptoms of anxiety and depression. That’s more than double what it was in 2019. And about one-tenth of U.S. adults said they’d considered suicide this year. 

Dr. Guthrie says these mental health problems are widespread. 

GUTHRIE: This is not a uniquely American phenomenon. I think it’s affecting individuals across the globe.

Haesue Jo is a marriage and family therapist. She says the COVID-19 pandemic and the response to it is hitting on essential human needs. Things like personal connection, safety, and purpose. 

JO: Anxiety itself is very future oriented. And it’s something that we all experience when we just don’t know what’s in front of us. And then depression is really past oriented. People have changes in their mood because of things that have happened or a series of events. I think depression is very closely linked to that, is not having drive to do anything, not seeing purpose in anything. 

Dr. Joseph Guthrie says it’s important to note that there is a difference between suffering from mental health symptoms and having an actual disorder. A professional can help tell the difference. 

GUTHRIE: Any time we experience loneliness, isolation, loss, it’s a natural response to feel sad, to be depressed. And so that would be a symptom. If that depression begins to affect an individual’s functioning, how they eat and sleep, then we start to think about a diagnosis of a disorder. 

Either way, people need help dealing with the symptoms. 

Ken Goodman is a licensed clinical social worker and member of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. He says one coping mechanism is to focus on other things besides what’s causing anxiety or depression—like the coronavirus.  

GOODMAN: You’re trying to reduce the amount of time that you’re spending dealing with coronavirus and focus more on living your life. What behaviors am I doing that I could begin to let go of? And the more you can implement behaviors that you used to do, while still being careful, you start to feel better. 

And while virus health concerns could soon diminish as vaccines become available, some of the emotional effects will linger. 

Ellen Tant says that’s why a community of support is so important. And she’s hopeful that 2020 will break more stigmas around mental health. 

TANT: I think that 2020 has definitely made it more aware to a lot of people that mental health is real, and mental health is important. And it’s not a journey that’s really fun to walk alone.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Sarah Schweinsberg.


(Photo/iStock)

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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