First, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought panic, with successive waves of infection and death, including the emergence this year of the Delta variant.
Then, vaccines offered the promise of recovery, at a speed – and on a scale – never seen before.
But now the Omicron variant sends Americans on another emotional roller coaster that mental health experts say is the last thing people need.
“I think what I feel and see the most is that a lot of people are kind of exhausted and tired,” said counselor and psychology expert Robert Hayes.
Hayes’ perspective stems from years spent working as a mental health worker for the American Red Cross, providing psychological counseling to victims of some of the nation’s worst disasters.
They included the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, the Los Angeles earthquake in 1994, the Little Rock, Ark., American Airlines crash and the 9/11 attack on the US Pentagon in 2001.
“Our job,” explained Hayes, “was a lot of really listening to their stories. And of course, we also tried to help people understand their first next step, to help them find a way. examine their situation so they can move. again. ”
But the seemingly endless pandemic brought stasis, not movement.
“What most people consider a ‘return to normal’ has not happened,” he noted. “So they’re tired. They’re just tired of it all. A lot of them don’t even care anymore. Because they – a lot of them – got their shots. Would you like me to do that?”
It all amounts to a kind of “backlash,” added Ani Kalayjian, president of the Association for Trauma Outreach and Prevention.
“We took our distance, we masked ourselves and we got vaccinated,” she said. “And we thought, ‘Things will get better. And then, wow, one more variation.
“So it creates a real sense of hopelessness,” Kalayjian added. “A feeling of abandonment. Especially with the vaccine, we thought we would be back to normal. But that hasn’t happened yet. So now, with this new variant, there’s the terrible thought that, ‘Oh my God, it’s really not going anywhere, is it?’ “
The result is an audience that is both “sad and demoralized,” said Andrea Corn, a Florida-based psychologist and expert in the treatment of depression, anxiety, grief and self-esteem.
Corn noted that many people have obeyed public health rules and made enormous personal sacrifices, wasting vacations, celebrations and irreplaceable time with friends, family and neighbors.
Everything was done in “the hope that their allegiance to the medical community and to science would be rewarded by the decline of the pandemic,” she said.
Looking ahead, such deep pessimism may lead to “a diminished capacity to care,” Corn warned.
“There’s a good chance that, if asked, many adults probably think they’ve sacrificed enough in those 20 months and no longer want to strictly follow the rules, when so many people intentionally don’t want to follow the rules. or blatantly laugh at doing what is asked of them, “Corn said.
What to do to counter growing pandemic malaise?
Hayes said the best thing people can do is talk to each other.
“A lot of people are scared and nervous, because of all the changes. Or because of the loss,” Hayes noted. “If you stop and talk to people, you find that at this point many know someone who has passed away from COVID. And listening to their story about it can be very, very important. Because in trauma, the people really need to tell their stories. “
“And that’s trauma,” Kalayjian added. “Collective trauma. And we have to name it that. Because it’s not like you can go to another country to escape. Everyone everywhere is going through a similar situation.”
In this vein, the solution is twofold, she said.
“First and foremost, identify and release your own emotions. Whatever they are. Acknowledge them and release them. By all means. Release that anxiety and depression. You will feel so much better,” said Kalayjian.
Kalayjian’s other piece of advice: “Reach out to others. To the elderly. To the people who really can’t get out and are totally alone. It will anchor you. It will give you a purpose. It will help you feel as if you were in control. And that will give you a deeper meaning in life. And when you have it, you stay grounded, “she said.
“And if you’re stuck on the ground, you can recover more easily. Even in the worst situations,” Kalayjian said.
There is more on the impact of COVID on mental health at the World Health Organization.
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