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Pandemic causes mental health to take a tumble

By Donald Bierhals

Mental health professionals provide insight on how COVID-19 is causing anxiety and depression – and how to cope with it

Amanda Ranalli and Shannon Stonebrook, both licensed mental health counselors in the Pittsburgh area with a combined 25 plus years of experience, have observed more anxiety and depression amongst their patients during the Covid-19 riddled year of 2020.

“Anxiety is the number one issue for most people (during the pandemic)” said Stonebrook. Isolation, the habit of “doom scrolling” on cellphones and devices, and a substantial rise in unemployment are all contributing factors to an exhaustingly stressful year for many people according to Ranalli and Stonebrook.

According to data released by the U.S. Census Bureau in May, depression, and anxiety were three times more prevalent amongst U.S. adults during the pandemic compared to the previous year.

Isolation for extended periods of time has affected people greatly says Stonebrook. One of her patients would regularly spend time with their grandchildren 2-3 times per week but had to endure 3-4 months away from them resulting in severe depression, according to Stonebrook.

“What do I have to get up for today?’’ is a thought that crossed the patient’s mind a lot during that time said Stonebrook.

“For a lot of people, not being able to see their loved ones, not being able to be close, not being able to hug them, and really the lack of regular activities, that was difficult for people,” she said.

“It felt like it was never going to end, especially in the beginning,” said Melanie Cheripka, a 2019 University of Pittsburgh Graduate who currently works in the media communication field. Cheripka was like many, checking statistics on COVID-19 cases, paying close attention to updates on state regulation, and scrolling through countless news stories. However, Cheripka quickly realized after about a month that this behavior caused a lot of unnecessary stress, and eventually became fed up with the information overload. Instead, she focused her attention on career goals and aspirations, keeping her productive and positive.

Amanda Ranalli advises that people limit the amount of time spent consuming information regarding Covid-19 but understands that it is important to stay informed during a pandemic. If overwhelmed or overly consumed by information (hence the term “doom scrolling”), Ranalli advises to put your phone down and take a break, do something else!

In May, the unemployment rate in the United States was an astounding 13% according to Rakesh Kochhar (2020) of the Pew Research Center. When discussing unemployment with her clients, Ranalli understands the extreme difficulty it presents for people.

“It’s hard to lose your job, and it is going to be difficult to kind of figure out what the next step is,” said Ranalli. However, Ranalli and Stonebrook both agree that resume building, social networking, and applying to jobs are healthy steps in the right direction, indicating that at some point people need to accept what happened to them and move on for the betterment of themselves.

A coping tool that Ranalli and Stonebrook strongly advise using, especially during the pandemic, is the practice of mindfulness. Both describe it as “living in the moment”, taking in your surroundings, taking deep breaths, smelling the air, and honing on those senses can relieve stress greatly. According to Ranalli, while taking a shower try and feel the water running down your body, feel the steam from the hot water, and smell the fresh soap. Ranalli and Stonebrook believe mindfulness can be a reset button during any day, and it is a relaxing skill that can be improved upon over time.

According to Leah Schultz, a hardworking mother and manager at a local country club, the pandemic has not been all negative. “For a lot of people, it was horrible, for our family, in particular, it was like a blessing”. Schultz believes her family was given a chance to actually “slow down”, leading to more quality time with her 3-year-old son, Jack, and her husband Torrey. Schultz particularly enjoyed having breakfast, lunch, and dinner with her family, and an occasional fire was heartwarming as well.

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