When COVID-19 became a widespread disease, the world underestimated the impact this virus would have on society, whether mentally, financially, emotionally, or physically. The pandemic tested everybody, and many are still dealing with the effects of the virus.
Covid infected almost 500 million people worldwide and claimed over six million lives. The virus also left many in a financial crisis, as businesses closed and people lost their jobs, creating debt and homelessness for many families.
Alexander Rodgers, the program director for the Family Residency Program at Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science, relayed the effects the pandemic has had on people’s mental health and how stress plays a part in causing mental illness.
“In the last two to two and a half years, many people’s social norms and community norms were uprooted, not only that, but many people lost their jobs which caused financial stress,” he said. “These, coupled with people being directly and indirectly physically affected by the virus, can aid in the development of many mental illnesses.”
Rodgers also spoke on how the “work from home” trend that started during the pandemic seemed like a good idea, but there are possible downsides.
“One of the downsides to this trend is blurred lines for people’s work-life schedules,” he said. “Many people are out of the office at five, but now they may be in meetings until eight o’clock because their employer feels like they have nothing else to do. This unbalanced work-life schedule can make people feel disconnected from the world and cause them to become workaholics.”
While Rodgers points out the negatives, he supports working from home and highlights that workers with kids benefit from working from home because they don’t have to pay for childcare.
“I prefer to work from home because my wife is immune-compromised,” he said. “Working from home allows me to limit interactions with people and germs for her sake. Also, I can imagine parents who might have previously struggled with financially paying for child care can now watch their child from home. This will allow them to save and keep the extra money that would have gone to daycare.”
Rodgers compares how his patient’s needs and problems pre-pandemic, changed during the pandemic and what new issues they were dealing with at the MLK county clinic.
“Many of my patients started reporting symptoms of anxiety and depression, or stress from financial hardship or grief from losses from the virus or learning to cope with newfound disabilities from the virus,” he said.
Dr. Sandra Cox of the Coalition of Mental Health Professionals agrees with Rodgers on how the needs of patients differ now from those before the pandemic.
“We use the diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders fifth edition to help us classify which mental disorders our patients may have,” Cox said. “The heavy-duty stress from the pandemic can and has caused people to have mental breakdowns. People are trying to deal with their stress in different ways, but as the pandemic progresses, it is becoming harder and harder for people to find ways to relieve it.
“The financial crisis many people are facing limit the things they can do, the increased price and shortage of food adds to the mental stress, and now with gas prices increasing, you can’t even take a drive to alleviate stress.”
Rodgers explains that while people may be suffering from mental breakdowns or a mental illness, it may be hard for their close ones to recognize it. People may isolate themselves to deal with their illness, as they don’t want to seem weak.
“Depression and anxiety are underdiagnosed because people feel like if they admit to them, they are essentially admitting they are weak and a failure,” Rodgers said. “They withdraw from friends, family, and society and get caught in a vicious cycle of wanting to call out for help because of the depression, but they are also experiencing withdrawal which leads them to dive deeper into their isolation.”
Cox states that Black people need to get their mental health checked because African-Americans are more likely to suffer from a mental illness or disease because of a collective traumatic history.
“When Black people go to see a mental health doctor, we are two times more likely to be classified with severe mental health issues than any other ethnicity,” Cox said. “The reason is our history in slavery and how Black people have been treated by society and the police over the ages.”
“People need to learn how to cope with their mental health issues before it’s too late. Many Black people feel weak for seeking help or talking to people about these things, but doing these methods will save them,” she added. “Sitting alone in a room and having a mental breakdown is not a healthy way of dealing with your issues. Surrounding yourself with people who will help you explore options and support you is the only way for us to survive and continue in life.”
Rodgers agrees and believes in having a one-on-one conversation with his patients to help diagnose them, then talk about their problems and help them find solutions. One solution he recommends is prescription drugs.
“I have discussions with patients about starting medication if I feel like it will benefit them,” Rodgers said. “But before I do that, I always check to see if they have any thoughts on killing or harming themselves. I also recommend they talk with a therapist, and in severe cases, I may recommend a procedure.”
If you know anybody dealing with a mental health issue or illness or may be suicidal or thinking of harming themselves, visit or have them visit http://www.dmh.ca.gov/ or call (800) 854-7771 as this is not only a crisis line but a point of access to any health needs in the community. You can also visit http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ or call (800) 273-8255 and Trevor Project (LGBTQ) or call (866) 488-7386 for any health needs for the LGBTQ community. Readers can also contact the Coalition of Mental Health Professionals at (323) 777-3120.