Data from the CDC show a sharp increase in the number of Americans experiencing symptoms of anxiety and depression. Are many breaking under the stress?
The worst part of COVID may be behind us, but that doesn’t mean we’re driving off into the sunset—at least not without a lot of baggage.
Psychologists are reportedly paying close attention to the impact the pandemic made on the country’s mental health, and they’re noticing that many individuals are showing signs of chronic stress.
According to Marie-Christine Nizzi, a postdoctoral researcher at Dartmouth College and the Brain Institute at Chapman University, when individuals are in a dangerous or stressful situation for prolonged periods of time, their body’s responses to it change from those of acute stress to what medical professionals call chronic stress. Over time this can take a significant mental toll that presents many adverse side effects. As Nizzi puts it, “as the (individual’s) stress becomes chronic, their ability to cope with all of the changes is starting to be overwhelmed.”
Nizzi studies trauma, which can be caused by chronic stress, and has been collecting data on the mental state of Americans throughout the pandemic. She and others in the psychology field say that the prolonged trauma of living under pandemic stress could have long-term effects on some individuals, leading to undesirable behavior changes in society.
Numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention enforce the scope of the problem. They found that 42 percent of Americans reported experiencing symptoms of anxiety and depression over the last year, an 11 percent increase from pre-pandemic times.
‘It’s cruel,’ she would say, over and over again, in the painful phone calls from her care home
Ibarely recognized my mother when I saw her in the hospital bed the night she died. It had been many months since we were last able to meet, when she was still a force of nature. Now there was almost nothing left of her. The death certificate records that Elizabeth Carol Chamberlain died of dementia and kidney disease aged 88. But it was lockdown that really killed her.
For my parents, like so many people of their generation living out their later years in care homes, lockdown offered not protection but imprisonment. ‘It’s cruel,’ Mam would say, over and over again, in the painful and awkward phone calls that we shared over the last year or so. ‘Just cruel.’ ‘What have you been doing?’ ‘Nothing. Staring at the walls.’
Both my parents had been in and out of care homes and hospital over the past year. My mother had been sliding into dementia for a while, though she could be lucid and sharp as a tack when the mood took her. My father, Les, had recently suffered a stroke, so had been taken into hospital from the care home where they lived.
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