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How COVID-19 Is Affecting Your Mental Health

by Dave Zucker

Photo: Kate Williams, 2016

In case you’ve missed the industry shutdowns, school closures, social isolation, and round-the-block lines to get into the grocery store for the last five months, things have been pretty stressful lately.

Those who live with anxiety and depression are encountering heightened external stressors, while many who have never experienced symptoms are suddenly finding themselves inundated by risk and uncertainty. The New York State Department of Health has created official guidelines for managing stress and anxiety within its official COVID-19 guide, even creating a dedicated emotional support hotline at 1-844-863-9314.

Continuing its virtual speaker series, National Book Award winner and Pulitzer Prize finalist Dr. Andrew Solomon will join viewers for a digital Q&A at The Bedford Playhouse this Sunday, July 12 at 8 p.m. Dr. Solomon was kind enough to Zoom in from his Rhinebeck home to give us a preview of the planned discussion and provide some guidance on how we can adapt and support our emotional and mental wellbeing.

Your work in psychology — particularly depression — seems especially relevant right now. What kinds of added stress may people not even know they’re dealing with?

I think there are two stresses — I mean there are many stresses but there are two in an essential category. One is the stresses associated with the disease itself: the loss of people you love and care about, the awareness that you yourself might get sick, the loss for many people of jobs, and all of those struggles that are directly related to the disease and the confusion, which I think in some ways is the hardest — not knowing when or how it’s going to change.

The wisdom on that seems to be rearranged every other day. If we could say to everyone, “Okay, it’s going to take until January, but then it’s all going to be fine,” I think people could deal with that. When can we open? What’s going to be safe? What’s going to be appealing to people? The confusion is terrible.

On the other hand, there’s the experience of isolation, and I think the relish with which people have abandoned their isolation for wild sociability — when it’s pretty clear that’s a misguided thing to do — is evidence of how much people have struggled with the isolation. People are truly by themselves – the sense of being truly cut off from the rest of humanity, who have seen no one but whoever’s in line at the grocery store for the last four months. On the other hand, you have the people who are locked in with their families 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. While for some people that’s wonderful and has engendered more closeness than they’ve had before, some people are going slightly crazy from overexposure to a small group of people and not having any other outlet or means of escape.

It’s helpful that we can have things like Zoom conversations, but it’s different qualitatively than what it would be if we were meeting in 3D in real life and had a conversation face to face. I think a lot of people are struggling with the isolation mightily.

(To read the full interview, please visit Westchester Magazine.)