Sheri Kirshenbaum, PhD
Clinical Director at Quartet Health
April 1, 2020
Mental health providers play a key role in community response during times of crisis. From public health emergencies such as HIV/AIDS, SARS and EBOLA to terrorist attacks such as 9/11 and school shootings, and natural disasters such as Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, mental health providers have shown up on the front lines to treat those affected.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), most people affected by such crises will experience psychological distress including anxiety, sadness, hopelessness, sleep and concentration difficulties, irritability, anger and/or physical aches and pains. People tend to feel a loss of control and a sense of helplessness. While such responses are normal and will resolve over time, the prevalence of depression and anxiety is expected to more than double in times of crisis. Those with preexisting mental health conditions are particularly vulnerable at these times and are at greater risk for acute symptom exacerbation.
The COVID-19 outbreak is a time of crisis, and information and guidance are changing over time. In recent days, we’ve moved from “an abundance of caution,” to “social distancing” and now we’re “sheltering in place” as we try to stem the spread of the virus. There have been extreme disruptions of schedules, work and school routines, and relationships.
In addition, people are experiencing health concerns, worries about accessibility of food and household goods, employment and education stability and financial stress. Some are reporting bullying or discrimination due to some people associating the virus with particular racial or ethnic groups. As rules around social contact become more stringent, people may also be experiencing loneliness and isolation. This may be especially problematic in households with incidence or risk of domestic or child abuse. Those exposed to or infected with the virus may be subject to quarantine, which is associated with additional negative psychological effects.
Mental health providers are actively involved in helping their patients to negotiate the widespread impact of COVID-19. There has been a lot written about how to help people cope more effectively.
Here are some tips to help you support your patients:
And please don’t forget to engage in your own self-care. The adage about putting on your own oxygen mask before you help others with theirs rings true, and perhaps this should have been the very first bullet point above. As a mental health provider, it is always important to engage in self-care activities to maintain a sense of balance in your life and prevent burnout. During the current health crisis, it is even more important to be sure that you are in tune with your own thoughts and feelings and are doing what you can to address your own needs.
Sheri Kirshenbaum, PhD, is the Clinical Director at Quartet Health. She is a Clinical Psychologist licensed in New York and California. Her expertise in the healthcare field has focused on improving health outcomes for vulnerable or hard to reach populations including individuals living with chronic mental illness, substance use disorders, and HIV/AIDS. She was a 9/11 first responder and saw patients through the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in New York City. She joined Quartet to have a wider influence on innovations to get patients the mental healthcare they need when they need it.
At Quartet, we know that mental health care isn’t one size fits all.
COVID-19 added a layer of complexity for mental healthcare workers, who may be experiencing their own stressors and anxieties related to the crisis.
For some, following the stay-at-home orders for one pandemic may render them vulnerable to another: domestic violence.