New Jersey Psychologists Discuss Mental Health Epidemic During COVID-19
“People talk about feeling as if they’re in quicksand, or that they’re in some body of water and they keep getting pulled down. They can sort of see the light, but they can’t find up,” North Brunswick, New Jersey Therapist Dr. Yvette Murry told Scriberr News when describing the strain COVID-19 has had on her clients.
As the epidemic coincides with May’s Mental Health Awareness month, communities are suffering from its effects on many levels. In an international Qualtrics study, 67 percent of respondents reported having higher levels of stress since the outbreak, and over 50 percent reported increased exhaustion, irritability and day-to-day sadness.
Murry, who is currently seeing clients via teletherapy, reported an influx of calls since the outbreak began. Many clients who previously scheduled biweekly or monthly sessions have increased their intervals to weekly.
“I’m finding more discord in couples; people have a much shorter fuse. Some already have severe mental health issues, and they’re not able to even get out of bed,” Murry said.
“For some clients, the goal when they wake up is, ‘can you get out of bed, wash your face and brush your teeth?’ If so, then that is a success for the day. It really is just that serious.”
Many of Murry’s clients with children suffer from feelings of inadequacy as they juggle 24/7 parenting and working from home, to being a partner to their significant others while caring for themselves.
Coupled with other issues like insomnia and financial stress, people can experience burn out from a situation that can’t easily be escaped. She supports clients coping through the anxiety that comes with unrealistic expectations to “have it all together” during such a precarious time.
With a client focus of ethnic minorities, Murry sees stark differences in response to the virus’ effect on people of color (POC) communities. Hispanic and Black people in urban areas experience a heightened number of deaths, as they are more likely to be the transit bus drivers, food chain and healthcare workers on the frontlines.
Increasing pressure for businesses to open puts a strain on these communities, who already suffer from disparities socially, structurally and medically, and don’t receive the proper equipment they need to protect themselves.
Teletherapy works for some, but not all
Highland Park, New Jersey therapist and licensed clinical social worker Shayan Salar shared a similar experience.
Salar has seen other issues regarding both medical and mental healthcare with clients from ethnic backgrounds. Some clients have elderly family members in nursing homes who are hearing and visually impaired, disabled and/or cannot speak English.
Pre-pandemic, communication was open through visitation and phone calls. But the crisis has stifled those resources, leaving families in the dark about the conditions of their loved ones.
Salar, who also speaks Farsi, helps clients emotionally navigate the difficulties. He appreciates some of the positive changes in mental healthcare that teletherapy has introduced.
With the ability to connect with clients from hundreds of miles away, increased accessibility to care is viable for people who might have been at a loss otherwise.
Although some of his clients do perfectly well with the help of teletherapy, others are at a standstill, suffering from potential addiction relapse and not knowing where to turn for the amount of support they need to stay sober.
“They’re (attending sessions) via virtual services to the degree that they feel called to, but it’s very out of the norm for them to engage in self-help groups that way, so isolation has definitely gotten to people in that respect,” said Salar.
He added, “it’s been hard-hitting for those who suffer with substance abuse and other addictions.”
Healthcare workers bound to seek therapy
Murry is preparing to see “an onslaught” of healthcare workers seeking services after the pandemic, due to the tremendous amount of trauma they have endured.
Working long, difficult hours and watching the patients they care for succumbing to the virus is bound to take a toll on their mental health, as they have very little time to reflect before having to do it all again the next day.
Murry also incorporated walking therapy to encourage clients to get fresh air and exercise during sessions. She is also exploring different strategies for client progress, from changing medicines to incorporating new coping activities.
Salar is hopeful for the future. He anticipates people making self-care more of a priority.
“It’s hard to make any generalizations about how the population will move forward, but due to the collective trauma we’re all experiencing, the hope is that we move back into some sort of normalcy and routine,” said Salar.
“With the ability to feel like we have freedom again, I imagine that people’s mental health will improve. Their options for things to do outside of what they’ve been able to establish over these last several months will also play into how their mental health is impacted.”
For more mental health services, visit mentalhealth.gov
For support with substance abuse, visit SAMHSA.com