Psychologist sees 'mental health pandemic' behind COVID fatigue
Pandemic fatigue is not selective in who it strikes.
A school student may feel the effects. A teacher or school administrator is not immune. Neither are healthcare workers who are suddenly slammed with COVID-19 cases.
If you are reading this story, there's a good chance you are feeling some of the symptoms of pandemic fatigue.
Dr. Jeri Turgesen, a psychologist with Providence Newberg Medical Center, has counseled patients with pandemic fatigue and offers suggestions on how we can make changes in our life to lesson the effects of the COVID-caused condition.
"'Pandemic fatigue' is an interesting term that has popped up and has become a very common component of our vernacular now, as we describe experiences that a lot of us are having," Turgesen said. "It's not actually in and of itself a diagnosis. It's a general awareness of symptoms that really impact the overall sense of well-being and functioning of both kids and adults as we are going through this prolonged space of a global pandemic."
Symptoms of pandemic fatigue can include irritability, hopelessness, high levels of uncertainty, increased anxiety and increased depression. Some may have difficulty with concentration or focus, while others may experience issues with sleeping or find themselves consuming more substances, such as alcohol.
Turgesen also looks at is as a mental health pandemic, with significant increases in depression, anxiety and substance abuse disorders.
Pandemic fatigue can strike both school-age children and adults.
"The pandemic and pandemic fatigue impacts all kids and all ages," Turgesen said, noting that this condition can result in disruptions to family routines, more irritability, more sleep concerns and parenting struggles.
But while many adults are struggling, psychologists like Turgesen have particular concern for how the pandemic — as it enters its third year — has been affecting, and continues to affect, kids.
"We know emotional health and emotional well-being has a direct tie to education and educational outcomes," she said.
Turgesen continued, "I think it's hard to know the full extent and long-term impacts that the pandemic is going to have on education and educational outcomes, partly because it's still continuing to impact education and how kids are engaging in school."
As an example, she noted that one of the two middle schools in Newberg, where she practices, was shut down Jan. 27, Jan. 28 and Jan. 31 due to COVID cases.
"That's five days (including weekend) of lost contact time and lost education time," Turgesen said.
Parents of schoolchildren should "absolutely" look out for signs that their child is suffering from some of the effects of pandemic fatigue, Turgesen told Pamplin Media Group.
"I think as parents, the more that we can keep close tabs on our kids and how they are doing, the better," she said.
Turgesen suggests having open conversations with your kids. Parents should also keep an eye out for whether their kids are experiencing problems with sleeping or are displaying more irritability than usual.
Other problems to look out for include less interest in activities and friends and feelings of being down or depressed.
"Any of those significant changes from your child's normal are really great indicators that you might want to lean in and do a check-in with our kiddos and see how they're doing," Turgesen said, noting that a trusted medical provider can be of help.
It's also critically important to have direct conversations if a child is having thoughts of suicide.
If you or someone you know is experiencing thoughts of self-harm, help is available — call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.
Turgesen addressed the difficult and painful problem of suicides in kids.
"Nationally, our rates of adolescent suicide are increasing," she said. "I think that, at baseline, suicide is a crisis in our society that we really need to think very mindfully about."
Turgesen said, "We have seen significant increases in emergency department utilizations related to suicide risk and suicidal ideation, specifically within that 12-to-17 age range."
Turgesen hopes that as the pandemic becomes less threatening, we can collectively gather our wits and return to more of a feeling of normalcy. In the meantime, there are steps we all can take to feel better.
"I hope we can get back to some kind of a new normal," she said. "I think that's the hope that all of us have. I think kids and families are highly resilient, and there are really good things that we can do help increase resiliency and help to increase mental health and emotional wellbeing."
One idea from the doctor is being honest about facilitating age-appropriate conversations.
"Maintaining social connections can be extremely important both for kids and adults," Turgesen said. "We are all inherently social creatures by nature."
A structured routine can be helpful, such as normal meal times and normal times to get in and out of bed.
Exercise is great, and it's always wise to limit your screen time, a challenge in this high-tech world.
If you feel like you simply don't have the time to sip an iced tea and relax, think again. Making time for yourself is important, Turgesen said. She also offered a few more relaxing tips you can implement within your day.
"Walking is a great one," she said. "There are a lot of great really great apps on mindfulness and relaxation strategies."
If self-care during waking hours should be a priority, sleep time shouldn't be neglected, either.
Turgesen said, "Sleep is key. There is huge value in making sure we are getting a consistent sleep routine that's not impacted by screens. We're all guilty of scrolling away late at night."
While none of us know the trajectory COVID-19 will take, Turgesen tries to stay positive.
"I think there is absolutely always space for optimism," she said. "We do want to make sure that we are intentional with our health, intentional with taking care of ourselves, and mindful of what the best practices are based on the information we know for COVID."
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