On Point | COVID-19 inducing and amplifying anxiety | News

The coronavirus pandemic has affected people’s physical well-being, as many people have been hospitalized, and some unfortunately have lost their lives.

But what about mental health and COVID-19?

Megan Zadzilko, guidance counselor at Greater Johnstown High School, said the school has received multiple phone calls from parents concerned about their children’s anxiety due to either educational changes caused by COVID or the pandemic in itself.

She added that parents have also called with questions regarding the referral process for mental health services.

“There has been an overall negative impact on the emotional well-being of others,” Zadzilko said. 

“Many are feeling lonely, isolated, worried, concerned, afraid and do not self-advocate to get the help/services they need at this time.”

Zadzilko said that before the pandemic, if students were experiencing symptoms of a mental-health condition, GJSD staff would refer them to the Student Assistance Program or to School-Based Counseling through the Alternative Community Resource Program. 

These referring processes haven’t changed but the counseling sessions themselves might be held differently.

This pandemic hasn’t only affected students. According to Zadzilko, teachers’ workload and stress involved with this work has increased due to the changes in the education system. These teachers have to juggle both the customary face-to-face learning alongside the newly introduced virtual learning.

National trend

These impacts are not unique to Greater Johnstown. 

However, a survey on the frequency of anxiety and depression symptoms conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) partnered with the Census Bureau displays what is happening to many others, as well. Just in Pennsylvania alone, for the span from Oct. 14-26, about 31.6% of individuals older than 18 reported having anxiety symptoms.

In the United States as a whole during the same time period, he average percentage is at 32.8% which can be compared to the results of a similar survey taken last year for the months April, May and June, where 8.1% of adults reported symptoms related to anxiety.

Heightened anxiety, fear and worry are dangerous for the overall mental health and could lead some individuals to developing an anxiety disorder, the NCHS said. For others, the negative feelings around the pandemic could amplify an already pre-existing disorder.

Some of these anxiety disorders include the most common types: Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), a disorder characterized by chronic anxiety, worry and tension even with no provocation; and Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD), a disorder in which overwhelming anxiety and self-consciousness are induced by everyday social situations.

Another is Panic Disorder, characterized by repetitive episodes of fear that are unexpected along with physical symptoms such as heart palpitations, chest pain, shortness of breath and dizziness.

Additionally there is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), in which recovery is difficult after experiencing a terrifying event or ordeal, as well as Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), repetitive and unwanted thoughts (obsession) that lead to compulsions (repeated behaviors).

These conditions are of the most common mental illnesses in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults over the age of 18, while 25.1% of children between 13 to 18 are affected by a similar condition. It also isn’t uncommon that an anxiety disorder is accompanied by depression according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

‘Take care of yourself’

During this pandemic, with sickness and self-isolation on the rise, these types of symptoms associated with anxiety disorders are also on the rise. This is further shown in an article on Medical News Today concerning a study showing an increase in people searching Google for anxiety symptoms during COVID-19.

Search terms related to “worry” significantly increased after the announcement of the pandemic. These searches then shifted to searching for specific anxiety symptoms, online therapy and therapy techniques.

That is why the importance of mental health and the availability of resources for them has increased, as well.

Zadzilko offers some suggestions for both children and adults to apply to their daily lives while coping with the anxiety-inducing COVID:

“Take care of yourself: Love yourself. Eat healthy. Set a routine that works for you and follow it. Create a healthy sleep cycle. Read. Exercise. Journal. FaceTime with friends/family/loved ones.”

Overall, she says, “Keep your body and mind healthy, however that looks for you.”

Many people struggle with these types of issues on a daily basis. Help is available:

• National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255 (Operates 24/7)

• Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration National Helpline: 1-800-662-HELP(4357)

• National Center for PTSD: Immediate help 1-800-273-8255 (Press 1 if a veteran)

• The International OCD Foundation: Hosting OCD/Coronavirus Town Halls on Saturdays at noon on Facebook and YouTube.

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