Coronavirus job loss, 'psychological micro-traumas' likely to cause uptick in mental health calls, expert says

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For the more than 30 million Americans who find themselves unexpectedly unemployed due to the coronavirus pandemic, or the hundreds of thousands silently grieving the loss of a loved one in isolation, COVID-19 is poised to leave a lasting mental health impact that may require more than time to heal. In fact, based on trends one expert has seen after past crises that Americans have lived through, he said he expects to see a “transient increase” in the number of people reaching out for mental health help.

“Based on what we know from past crises we’ve lived through, there’s usually a spike in the need for people to touch base with a mental health professional,” Dr. Charles Herrick, chair of psychiatry at Nuvance Health, told Fox News. “They want to know if they’re OK, or if they need help. Most people are OK and just need that reassurance.”

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Job loss, or being furloughed while in isolation and under stay-at-home orders, paired with the prospect of a tough job market once the economy reopens, may also make it more difficult to cope with current circumstances.

“A psychological response to job loss is understandable and normal,” Herrick said. “But the way to deal with job loss for most people isn’t turning to a mental health professional; it’s getting back to work. At this time, getting back to work will depend on the government, economy, and how people behave when it’s safe to resume normal activities.”

Maintaining a positive and optimistic attitude, as difficult as it may be during this time, is pivotal to coping with job loss at this time, Herrick said. Relying on our social connections with family, friends or former co-workers can help with the experience.

“We rely heavily on these relationships to feel good about ourselves,” he said. “Without these connections, we can experience social and sensory deprivation, which can have a negative impact on mental health. Fortunately, this pandemic happened at a time when technology is available to help us stay connected. Without it, we’d see far more psychological damage than we do today.”

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And those who find themselves dealing with death in the age of coronavirus are doing so without typical rituals such as funerals or memorials, which can bring comfort and are also important for mental health.

“The fortunate thing is technology can bring us together and create opportunities for us to connect and grieve as a community over the loss of loved ones,” he said. “An example of technology bringing us together is how Easter mass aired on TV and online platforms. Further, planning memorials to celebrate someone’s life for when it’s safe to have them will be critical to the health process, aside from whatever is done through technology.”

Some officials, such as Dr. Anthony Fauci, have surmised that handshakes and other social norms America had grown accustomed to but have since disappeared amid coronavirus may never make a comeback. Herrick said he expects some of the “new norms” society has grown accustomed to, such as a reliance on technology to keep in touch, will stay long after the pandemic has ended.

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The same goes for the “psychological micro-traumas” created by the strict measures put in place to stop the spread of the virus, he said.

“We most likely will have an immediate impulse to reach out to others, but quickly reel from that and be afraid,” he said. “People will most likely be reticent to jump into crowds without hesitation and some sense of fear. People may also experience anxiety over wanting to re-establish connections while also wanting to keep our distance from each other. Therefore, I do think that there will be an increase in screen time and continued use of technology to stay connected.”

If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) or go to SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for a list of additional resources.