Monday, October 18, 2021
Oct. 18, 2021

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In Our View: Pandemic ‘whiplash’ takes toll on us mentally

The Columbian
Published:

How are you doing?

With a surge of coronavirus cases, we thought we would ask. The return of mask mandates and concerns about the virility of the COVID-19 delta variant have us worried again, providing stressors at a time when we thought the pandemic would be long over.

Along with fears about physical health come concerns about mental health. And in many ways, those concerns are more intense than before. Not long ago, after all, it appeared that we were moving past the pandemic and heading toward normalcy, but the increase in COVID infections can lead to a sense of resignation.

“This whiplash is causing people to feel a variety of emotions: disappointment, uncertainty, anxiety, possibly anger and frustration,” Vaile Wright of the American Psychological Association told WebMD. “When it seemed like there was a light at the end of the tunnel and we have the tools to overcome (the virus) and we’re not really using them, it can be hard for people to understand.”

The primary tool is vaccines that have been shown to be effective and safe. The Pfizer vaccine last week received full approval from the Food and Drug Administration for use by people 16 and older, and two other vaccines have Emergency Use Authorization.

Data show that most infections in recent weeks are among people who are not vaccinated. And in breakthrough cases — infections among fully vaccinated people — the vaccines appear to greatly reduce the symptoms’ severity.

Regardless of whether or not you have been vaccinated, the surge of COVID cases is stressful. Hospitals throughout the country report that nearly all their beds are full, elective surgeries are being postponed and patient overflow tents are being constructed in parking lots. Fears of an overwhelmed health care system have returned, bringing uncertainty with them.

All of this comes just weeks after we were confident the worst was behind us. Marissa King, author of “Social Chemistry: Decoding the Elements of Human Connection,” said: “There was a moment when we were able to reconnect, to experience joy and the hope of being able to revitalize relationships. The loss of that hope and the fear of being isolated again is causing so much distress.”

This is particularly true among health care professionals, who have been on the front lines for 18 months. In July, as infection rates began increasing, a Seattle-area nurse announced her resignation on Twitter: “I can’t continue to live with the toll on my body and mind. Even weekly therapy has not been enough to dilute the horrors I carry with me from this past year and a half.”

Most of us do not deal directly with COVID on a daily basis. But it still can take a toll. The National Center for Health Statistics and the Census Bureau have monitored the nation’s mental health throughout the pandemic, and they report that anxiety is increasing.

Help is available:

  • Clark County Mental Health Crisis Services can be reached at 800-626-8137.
  • The Southwest Washington chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness can be reached at 360-695-2823 or www.namiswwa.org.
  • And Clark County Teen Talk provides “nonjudgmental support for teens, by teens” at 360-397-2428, by text at 360-984-0936 or online at clark.wa.gov/community-services/teen-talk.

To eventually get past the pandemic, our mental health requires as much care as our physical health. If you or a loved one are having difficulty coping, be sure to reach out for help.

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