To get a better understanding of the issues mental health professionals are seeing as the pandemic unfolds, The Jewish Light sat down with licensed social worker Nikki Rauner from Emotional Health Therapy in Clayton to ask her some questions.
What do you see as the overall impact on people’s mental health as the third year of the pandemic begins?
The mental health world is witnessing a shift in the prioritization of mental health. Isolation gave people the time and space to look inward and figure out where they want to go in life, to judge friendships that were either very meaningful or not fulfilling.
Many people would not have attempted a relationship with a therapist prior to the pandemic. We are seeing the stigma surrounding mental health begin to crumble. That means we still have a long way to go. The other side of the impact of the pandemic is isolation.
With quarantines, missing events and fewer social plans, interpersonal relationships have taken a hit and this has led to much anxiety, sometimes even in relation to leaving home. This is a double-edged sword. If you go out, you risk catching COVID and risk spreading it. Staying home can trigger anxiety and depression, and mental illness, in turn, leaves people feeling alone and hopeless with no end in sight.
What problems do you see for parents with school-age children?
Parenting is an area that has become increasingly difficult since the pandemic. Parents are forced to work or be home teachers, with virtual learning still in play even after children are quarantined for 10 days. This leaves parents feeling an insurmountable pressure to be good parents, to be teachers, to manage which grades children should go to, and often the parent keeps their own job. Children, in turn, can feel the pressure from school or the anxiety of their parents and the cycle begins. These parents have less time for therapy and so anxiety overflows and can turn into a system of anxious people.
Fear can manifest itself as avoidance and shutting down, or yelling and aggressive behavior. This has been difficult for many family systems to deal with, but this is also where they are asking for help. That’s good because sometimes there were challenges before the pandemic, but the crisis has shown them what they need to work on to grow as a family.
Do you hear the word “mental exhaustion” and if so, what does it mean?
Mental exhaustion refers to the idea that prolonged stress can produce a greater mental illness, such as depression. Depression and anxiety can appear like frustration, a lack of ability to enjoy the little moments and that can be very difficult for a family living with someone who is experiencing this. Mental exhaustion doesn’t have to appear like crying or sadness—it can also appear like someone is frustrated and angry. Fatigue worsens when these behaviors trigger interpersonal conflict.
Is any type of person or profession more more likely to suffer from “mental exhaustion” than others?
Mental health cuts across socioeconomic lines, racial and cultural lines and is something everyone can endure. Mental health, much like physical assistance, needs to be treated proactively for the best results. Unfortunately, the stigma surrounding mental health discourages people from proactively seeking therapy or psychiatry.
Most people enter a therapeutic relationship when they or someone they love is going through a crisis. Individuals with anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, or other mental health diagnoses in their family genetics might be more likely to suffer from mental fatigue due to a genetic predisposition to mental illness.
Do you see anything positive that you can Split?
The pandemic has allowed therapy to be delivered in person or virtually, making it more accessible to many age groups. Our 65+ community will be more likely to engage in therapy as their social opportunities are limited.
The positive is that you have groups of people learning, reading, and listening to podcasts about mental health and that allows our community to better assess when someone should seek professional health. There is no shame in fighting and the pandemic has given people permission to say they are fighting and to ask for help.
I would like to add that COVID symptoms such as loss of taste and smell have been reported as neurological symptoms. Losing taste and smell over a long period of time, these patients often report mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression.
Do you have any idea what the lingering mental health effects may be after? panDemic endings?
I’ve seen up to 150-160 clients a month through most of the pandemic and I can tell you almost all people are becoming more resilient by the minute. We refer to the brain as neuroplasticity, especially for young people, and that means the brain has the ability of the neural networks in the brain to grow and reorganize. As this happens, new pathways are made in the brain.
When we experience a global crisis like the pandemic as a universe, we can expect people to emerge more resilient. Lots of missed trips, long distance breakups when travel was so difficult, jobs changing from a fun work environment to a home with kids and spouses, people who lost loved ones without a funeral or couldn’t visit a parent in a nursing home , and many other potentially stressful, sometimes devastating, experiences.
The brain adapts naturally, and neural pathways can be created that allow the human being as a whole to be more resilient – to enable people to have a higher tolerance for fights. So this can seem like we’re moving through life’s struggles much more smoothly than we probably would have three years ago.
We are all affected by COVID and the mental health part can be devastating and also very exciting as people move toward growth.