Mental Health a Growing Concern During Pandemic

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to impact communities across the nation, the American Association of Nurse Practitioners® (AANP) urges all patients to take steps to help manage the stress, anxiety, depression, and related mental health issues that many are feeling. September is National Suicide Prevention Month, so AANP is increasing awareness of the warning signs that a friend or family member may be experiencing a more serious mental health struggle that requires immediate action.

"As the pandemic wears on, there is no question that increased numbers of people are feeling very anxious about their health, economic circumstances, loved ones and a whole host of related issues," said AANP President Sophia L. Thomas, DNP, APRN, FNP-BC, PPCNP-BC, FNAP, FAANP. "Nurse practitioners [NPs] spend time talking with their patients about these issues, and there are some steps that everyone can take to help lower their anxiety levels, such as improving your self-care, limiting the time you spend watching or reading negative news, connecting with friends and family to feel less isolated and alone, and speaking with a mental health NP or other mental health professional about your concerns and a potential treatment plan."

In a recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 53% of adult respondents in the United States reported that their mental health has been negatively impacted as a result of worry and stress caused by the pandemic. Public health directives like social distancing, which help to keep people safe and slow the spread of COVID-19, can also lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness, increasing stress and anxiety. 

"It is important to remember that you are not alone and that we are all experiencing this upheaval together," said Thomas. "It is critical to take care of yourself, and also check in with friends, family members, and neighbors to make sure they are coping. For those who are suffering from depression or more serious symptoms of a mental health issue, it's time to get professional help or reach out to a crisis hotline. The pandemic will most likely be with us for the unforeseeable future, so we must all be vigilant about our mental health as well as our physical health."

Signs of anxiety due to the pandemic:

-Fear and worry about your health or economic well-being, or that of your loved ones. 

-Changes in sleep or eating patterns. 

-Increased use of tobacco, alcohol, or drugs.

Ways to manage anxiety:

-Take care of your body — eat a healthy diet, get enough sleep, exercise regularly. 

-Limit negative news or social media feeds that increase feelings of anxiety. 

-Connect with friends and families to share feelings and express any concerns you may currently have. 

-Speak with a mental health NP or other mental health professionals; seek treatment.

Warning signs that someone may be at risk for suicide:

-Excessive sadness and moodiness. 

-Withdrawing from contact and activities with friends and family. 

-Changes in personality or changes in appearance. 

-Dangerous, reckless, or self-destructive behavior.

Ways to help someone who may be at risk for suicide:

-Reach out to urge them to talk about their feelings. 

-Encourage them to speak to a mental health professional, a crisis center, or a suicide hotline. 

-Check-in with them regularly to ensure they are getting the help they need. 

Note that the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for English speakers, and 1-888-628-9454 for Spanish speakers.