Eric Wood, a mental health professional who runs virtual support groups for Indiana judges and attorneys, can look at a screen full of heads nodding in response to what someone said and know that meeting is providing a relief to participants who have fought during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Wood, who lives in Indianapolis, can also see how his wife, Diane Keller Wood, has made gradual improvements in her recovery from the significant lingering effects of Covid on her mental and physical health.
“That was probably me being more of a therapist than a husband, but I would really try to get him to focus on the positives and not see everything with a kind of negative filter,” said Wood, a clinical case manager for the program. of Indiana Judges’ and Lawyers’ Aid. “And finally, she started coming home” from doctor’s appointments “saying, ‘You know, I think I’m getting better.'”
However, Keller Wood and the jurors, like millions of other Americans, have not fully recovered from the mental health problems associated with the pandemic and the surrounding social upheaval over the past two and a half years.
While there are indications that, at least among US adults, rates of anxiety and depression have declined from highs seen during the first year of the pandemic, they still remain higher than before Covid, and there are still not enough psychiatrists and therapists.
In short, while the pandemic no longer makes the nightly headlines, its ripple effects remain top of mind for many Americans.
In addition to those who died from Covid or lost a loved one to the virus, “there are personal stressors that people have had to deal with, with restrictions on their activities, with opportunities to get sick, and all of those things have now been chronic,” said Roxane Cohen Silver, a psychologist at the University of California at Irvine, who has described the pandemic as a “collective trauma.”
In 2019, 11% of adults in the United States reported symptoms of anxiety or depression, according to National Center for Health Statistics. In January 2021, the number was 41%. A year later, it had fallen to 32%, which was still significantly higher than before the pandemic.
Before the pandemic, the Advocates Assistance Program operated monthly support groups for people struggling with issues such as addiction or grief. When much of the country went into lockdown due to the virus, the organization launched a weekly program, The Connection Group, to help people cope with the isolation.
“We have some people in the group who self-identify as extroverts, and the pandemic was particularly difficult for them,” Wood said. “Working from home really changed their sense of engagement with other people; conversations were cut off. Everything social had simply disappeared from their lives.”
But even when the litigants began working in person again, their mental health challenges didn’t go away, Wood said. In some cases, they got worse.
“When people started going back to offices, lawyers in particular were just starting to break up,” Wood said. “Substance use for many really spiraled out of control during that two-year period. Depressive disorders, also on the rise.”
Yet despite the growing concerns and the novelty of virtual dating, the support groups seemed to work, Wood said. People who previously might not have driven two hours to attend a support group can now do so from home.
The Connections group “has created its own kind of sense of community,” Wood said. “We’ve had people come when a crisis was particularly important to them and then things settled down and then they stopped coming to the group, but it really filled a need.”
After the Covid restrictions eased, Wood and his colleagues considered stopping the Connections group or meeting less regularly, but participants insisted on keeping the same schedule.
After many people had stopped worrying about Covid, Diane Keller Wood, a hearing aid doctor, contracted the virus in February 2022, despite remaining vigilant about wearing a mask.
And then she developed lingering Covid symptoms, including shortness of breath, fatigue, brain fog, loss of balance and eye twitching.
Nearly one in five US adults who have had Covid continued to have lingering Covid symptoms in June, According to the National Center for Health Statistics.
Keller Wood has seen a long list of providers, including an ear, nose and throat doctor; a neurologist; a physical therapist; a psychiatrist; and an ophthalmologist.
For about a month, she experienced suicidal ideation, which is more common in people who have had Covid. according to a study conducted at Washington University in St. Louis.
Keller Wood described it as “the worst depression you’ve ever been in, for no reason at all.”
“People with Covid-19 unfortunately have a much higher risk of having mental health problems,” said Dr Ziyad Al-Aly, a clinical epidemiologist at the University of Washington who has studied the impact of the virus and long-term Covid. in people’s mental health.
The psychiatrist gave Keller Wood a mood stabilizer, which “helped me tremendously,” she said.
Keller Wood also connected with a member of a Covid survivor support group who recommended she try the over-the-counter drugs Pepcid and Zyrtec, which studies have shown may help with some covid symptoms. They helped ease Keller Wood’s brain fog, she said.
But some days, she still has trouble forming words.
“If I can have quality of life and see an improvement, I think I’ll stay positive, but I don’t know what my life will look like 10 years from now,” she said.
Another challenge is the lack of therapists and psychiatrists. More than a quarter of the American population lives in an area where there is a shortage of mental health providers, according to data from the Kaiser Family Foundation.
To address mental health issues, “we have to be creative,” Al-Aly said. That could mean the health care system forming support groups and social workers who provide mental health care, he said.
“The government needs to do a lot more, and also the public needs to be aware of this and restore some social ties and restore a sense of normality of controlling each other,” Al-Aly said.
Tim Bostwick, an opera singer and PhD candidate in music at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, is working on a creative solution to his post-traumatic stress disorder.
He had never had significant anxiety or depression prior to being hospitalized for Covid in the spring of 2021 and showing lingering symptoms of Covid. He also developed nodules in his vocal folds, which prevented him from singing for six months.
“Since recovering from Cov, I’ve woken up with nightmares almost every night, most of them back in the hospital,” he said.
But his mental health has improved thanks to medication and cognitive behavioral therapy. And he is now working with a service dog organization to train the mini Aussiedoodle, Lift.
In public, Bostwick used to panic when he saw others not wearing masks. Now Lift notices when his breathing pattern changes and paws at him.
“It helps me focus on something other than all the people around me who aren’t wearing masks,” he said. “This is not my responsibility. I really can’t deal. But I have to try to deal with my psychological issue.”
He is now preparing to perform for the first time since the start of the pandemic. He will sing in La Jetée at the Chicago Fringe Opera.
“Losing my voice … was like losing an old friend, and we’re not the same. We will never be the same. There is no return to normality,” he said. “But it’s like meeting an old friend again.”