Therapists Predict How This Year Will Shape Our Mental Health

For the first time in my life I started seeing a therapist. My mental health had never seriously affected my daily functioning before this year, even when it suffered a stroke in 2019 after an immediate family member was diagnosed with late-stage cancer. But in 2020 the addition of COVID-19 means that fear and hopelessness are now a major factor.
I am of course not alone. The psychological impact of the pandemic on the general public, key workers and survivors of the coronavirus is similar to that of major disasters when depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety emerge. This also happened a year after the SARS outbreak in 2003. The quarantine contributes to impaired mental health.
Furthermore, the pandemic in the United States is not alone in contributing to the poor psychological well-being of Americans. The country's political turmoil has caused distress in many marginalized groups. For the black community, police brutality and the microscope against racism can negatively impact mental health.
According to a recent survey by the National Opinion Research Center by the COVID Response Tracking Study, Americans' symptoms of deterioration in mental health did not improve from May to August 2020.
What will people's mental health be like by the end of the year? What are the challenges we face? Are there any positive aspects? In honor of World Mental Health Day, we asked therapists to share their thoughts:
People will experience grief and loss in ways that we did not struggle with before.
Since COVID-19 turned our sense of normalcy on its head, people have experienced amazing loss and grief - even though they may not realize it.
People not only mourn deceased loved ones, but also the loss of jobs, special events, travel plans and routines. Sima Kulshreshtha, a Seattle psychotherapist, said she believes grief will increase every time people encounter an aspect of their life that may not look like it did before the pandemic.
The stress will increase as some restrictions follow and others do not.
"At this point, people know what to do to be safe and make decisions about risks to take," said Kulshreshtha.
However, if you see those who do not follow health and safety guidelines, it can lead to mental harm. For example, watching family and friends behaving insecurely can create particular stress levels if you are an essential contributor doing everything possible to protect loved ones from the virus, Kulshreshtha said. Conflicts can arise over what is safe in social or family gatherings.
Therapists are concerned about parenting stress as they oversee their children's virtual learning while at work. (Photo: martinedoucet via Getty Images)
People could be even more burned out.
Ashley Ertel, a therapist at Talkspace, said she was concerned about the wellbeing of healthcare workers who may be burned out due to the demands of their job. Ertel said they are likely to sacrifice downtime, relationships, or other calming parts of their lives to fight the coronavirus.
Those with school-age children are also exposed to an additional stressor. Christina Hong Huber, a postdoctoral researcher and therapist at the Arlington / DC Behavior Therapy Institute, is concerned about the stress parents will experience from monitoring their children's virtual learning while they work. In the meantime, parents who have already looked after their children all day no longer have any child-free hours.
Students can also experience unique emotional stress.
Akeera Peterkin, a licensed clinical social worker and owner of Amani Nia Therapeutic Services, worries that young adults are not socialized because they are out of school or on campus.
Socialization helps with identity growth and identity realization and is a way for young people to deal with stress, Peterkin said. A lack of appropriate outlets or resources through the school and being close to their peers can affect their emotional growth.
"You might feel hopeless, helpless, or overthinking," said Peterkin. “You could try to control every little thing. Some may not be as vulnerable to others - they don't open up or ask for help as much - as trying to create a sense of security for themselves. "
Depression rates can increase.
Experiencing lingering, persistent trouble - like what happened with the pandemic - can increase a person's risk of depression, according to research.
"The interruption of the routine, the stuck at home and fewer distractions have meant that negative thoughts and feelings are increasingly noticed and taken up again," said Hong Huber. "Feeling isolated can contribute to an increase in symptoms of depression and anxiety, and the associated social withdrawal can perpetuate this distress."
"Individuals either want to protect themselves and create a sense of security and control, or they feel like they are unable to control or feel safe," says Akeera Peterkin, a licensed clinical social worker (Photo: Justin Paget ) via Getty Images)
The fear is likely to increase too.
Many people are extremely worried due to this year's unpredictability, fear of COVID, police brutality and social injustice, lack of guidance and much more. That will likely stay that way until the end of 2020, Peterkin said.
Peterkin is particularly concerned about the final months of 2020 as the holidays can add additional worries to family celebrations and gift giving, especially if people have lost their jobs.
"We are also having a very big election year, so the holidays can spark a lot of political discussion or separation of family members depending on your political perspective," said Peterkin.
Non-healthcare basic workers may also be concerned about their own well-being. Kulshreshtha said restaurant workers or retail workers could distrust their employers if they don't take COVID-19 as seriously as they did when the pandemic began.
Those who work in health care face a different challenge. You can be overwhelmed as more people get sick from the flu and other illnesses in addition to COVID-19 during the winter.
Ultimately, Kulshreshtha anticipates that if pandemic restrictions are relaxed - whenever possible - fear will increase as people become concerned about re-entering into social situations they have always found stressful, such as being at home. B. Work meetings, public spaces, or returning to a routine where there is the possibility of exposure.
The colder months could lead to mental health problems.
"For some, extreme weather can make mental health problems worse and add to a feeling of gloom," said Hong Huber.
Every year, when the weather changes with fall and winter, at least 5% of Americans suffer from seasonal mood disorders and approximately 14% from milder winter blues. A decrease in the number of people interacting with other people outdoors, which is one of the ways people are dealing with the pandemic, can make this problem worse.
Some people can develop post-traumatic stress disorder.
Being surrounded by constant trauma puts you at higher risk of mental health problems, Ertel said. "And for some people it could develop into acute stress disorder or even PTSD," she added.
This is especially true for those battling COVID-19 in the medical field, and for those in the black community who are grappling with ongoing social injustice and police brutality. But it is also a risk for many people who are currently living from this pandemic. Peterkin added that when trauma occurs, the system becomes overloaded with stressors and that it can become overwhelming.
"The body tends to be very vigilant," said Peterkin. "Individuals either want to protect themselves and create a sense of security and control, or they feel like they are unable to control or feel safe." It is those who are prone to the second reaction who often have symptoms of PTSD. "
These symptoms can include emotional numbness, persistent avoidance of memories of the trauma, difficulty sleeping and concentrating, and feelings of nervousness and irritability.
2020 taught people how to connect with loved ones, have honest conversations, and help. (Photo: Drazen Zigic via Getty Images)
Returning some certainty can help.
"Now that we see that the vaccines will probably not be ready for next year and that the virus will be available until at least next year, there is a little more security that allows us to be a little better prepared for the second half to feel the year, ”said Hong Huber.
In addition, we know what to expect in the event of a possible lockdown and what to do to stay as healthy as possible. This can make the pandemic feel a little safer than it did at the beginning.
By the end of the year, Kulshreshtha also anticipates that people who may not have virtually connected with others at the start of the pandemic will have greater reliance on it, which may also help improve some mental health outcomes.
More people will consider therapy to improve their wellbeing.
Throughout the year, "people who are financially and socially more privileged had more time, motivation and commitment to use this time to work on themselves, their families and partners," said Hong Huber.
More and more individuals and couples have been and will likely continue to have been in therapy regularly to learn how to deal with mental health problems. You're likely to see less stigma - finally! - combined with the search for professional help.
Peterkin said resilience will also be key to positive mental health outcomes. Therapy and other professional resources can help.
Communities can be more closely linked.
Peterkin said there is a notable silver lining in 2020: teaching people how to maintain connections with loved ones, have honest conversations on topics like systemic racism, and help strangers.
"These can help us come out as a stronger community by the end of 2020, and that can help people feel more connected even though we are taught to be socially distant," she said. "This will be helpful when it comes to our sanity."
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This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.

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