Omicron brings fresh concern for US mental heath after ‘grim two years’ | US news

Sarah Isaacs, a therapist in Raleigh, North Carolina, sees mostly clients between the ages of 22 and 30, many of whom have missed regular dating and communication due to the Covid pandemic.

“They literally couldn’t do anything for two years,” said Isaacs, who specializes in working with people with eating disorders and people known as LGBTQ+.

They are just some of the people in the United States whose mental health has suffered during the pandemic. A November Gallup poll found that only 34% of Americans describe their mental health as “excellent,” like last year. These are the lowest levels in two decades.

Although many people in the United States are now vaccinated against the virus and can engage in something like a pre-pandemic lifestyle, the country’s population continues to struggle with anxiety and depression.

And now there are new concerns about the Omicron variant and its impact on public life this winter. The new variant — which early reports suggest could be more contagious than previous strains — is already spreading in the United States, causing concern. If Omicron increases the spread of Covid-19 again, the impact on mental health will be serious.

“Despite vaccinations, we still see that people have not returned to pre-pandemic levels of well-being,” said Silvia Saccardo, a sociologist and co-author of a recent study on college students at the University of Pittsburgh. “And they are not returning to the levels of physical activity that prevailed before the pandemic, which can also have consequences, and this is very worrying, because if lifestyle and well-being habits do not recover normally, it is important to think about what needs to be done, interventions to help them.”

Psychologists and others who study mental health attribute rising rates of anxiety and depression to persistent fears about the virus, and ongoing trauma from the worst parts of the pandemic.

This is not unusual, said Sharon Hoover, co-director of the National Center for School Mental Health based at the University of Maryland. For example, more than 18 months after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, 15% of young adults who experienced a natural disaster continued to suffer from serious emotional disorders, such as anxiety disorders, compared to a national average of 4.2%, according to a US study. . Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

Like Isaac’s twenties, children and teens also lost important life events, Hoover said, and “that is not remedied overnight by reintroducing these things.”

“Many children and teens don’t yet have the coping mechanisms they might need, and in some ways are at the mercy of adults who are there to care for them,” Hoover said. “It is a huge mistake for people to say, ‘Our children will be fine, and only adults will suffer.'”

The same mental health concerns remain on college campuses. Before the pandemic, in the fall of 2019, a third of college students nationwide reported experiencing anxiety and a quarter reported depression, according to a report from the American College Health Association. A survey conducted by the organization in the spring of 2021 found that one in four students tested positive for suicidal thoughts.

Said John Dunkel, a former director of counseling services at Northwestern University who is now a senior director with others – The Very For Profit Foundation, a suicide prevention organization.

To combat what some public health groups have declared a national mental health emergency, schools should build teens’ coping skills in the classroom rather than “waiting to direct children to mental health providers who may not see them for six months,” in part because of workforce shortages, Hoover said. .

“We have brought children back to school to improve learning loss in the context of Covid, but we also have to put in place social and emotional support in school settings,” Hoover said.

While there is a shortage of mental health professionals in the United States, Dunkel said focusing on the number of providers in a counseling center should be just one consideration. He said schools should also educate other staff about how to respond to students’ mental health needs and help students deal with insurance issues.

Despite concerns about the students’ mental suffering, Dunkel sees reasons for optimism. In partnership with the Dunkle Foundation, Ithaca College recently established “Stop and Breathe Week,” which aims to help “students deal with the stress of preparing for final exams.”

After two Saint Louis University students died by suicide in September, the school canceled one-day lessons to help students focus on mental health.

“This is a good sign,” Dunkel said, “as we tell students in the community, ‘Let’s stop and think about our mental health and balance.'” Ideally, they would take such steps “proactively, not necessarily in the wake of a tragedy.”

Isaacs, a North Carolina therapist, can take the positives from recent reports on mental health in the United States. She said she and another provider at her clinic have a two-month waiting list for people seeking appointments, in part because treatment has become more standard.

“I think the fact that people are seeking treatment in large numbers is a good thing,” Isaac said. “It’s been two bleak years, but I think having everyone together at the same time made people feel like they’re not alone.”

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