Friday, March 13, brought drastic changes for Blaine County as Idaho Gov. Brad Little declared the state’s first case of COVID-19, with two cases in Blaine County declared the following day.
By the following Monday, Blaine County residents woke up to a new normal with schools across the county closed, restaurants ordered to close their doors and businesses shuttering their offices and sending employees to work remotely for what, at the time, was expected to be a few weeks.
Seven months later, limiting screen time for children has become obsolete as many now learn from home via their computers or smartphones. Zoom meetings that were hampered by technical glitches and frustration early on have now become normal. Face masks have become the fashion staple of 2020.
Resilient as a species, humans have adjusted their lives to adapt to a landscape filled with fear and the constant unknown of what tomorrow will hold for this pandemic. That said, the toll coronavirus has taken on mental health is something that could have lasting effects for generations. According to the National Institute of Health, women who are pregnant through this pandemic will share this stress with their fetus, creating a possible predisposition to diseases such as schizophrenia.
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit organization focusing on national health issues, 53 percent of adults in the U.S. “reported that their mental health has been negatively impacted due to worry and stress over the coronavirus,” based on a poll conducted in mid-July. Compared to the same question asked in mid-March, in which 32 percent of adults in the U.S. reported negative impacts on mental health from COVID-19, it would appear that the longevity of the pandemic has taken a toll on a broader number of people the longer it has lingered.
For healthcare workers in Blaine County who have been working on the frontlines of the pandemic since March, the surge came early and the response technique was marred by little information on the novel virus and limited knowledge on how to treat the symptoms associated with COVID-19. That left a psychological impact, as doctors and nurses saw patients who would normally be health coming into the emergency room ill and deteriorating quickly, according to St. Luke’s Wood River Emergency Department Physician Deb Robertson.
“I have never seen that many sick people,” Robertson, who has been a physician for 20 years, said in an interview with the Mountain Express.
While burnout among health care workers at St. Luke’s is currently minimal, according to Robertson, the winter season is quickly approaching and Robertson said she is concerned the flu season and the ongoing pandemic will coalesce, creating a surge in hospital visits and a strain on resources once more.
However, for those still working from home and managing childcare, schooling and a pandemic, the surge has never ceased. The winter months create yet another layer of difficulty in getting outside, maintaining fresh air in your home and keeping yourself and your family sane.
“The anticipation of a potentially challenging winter means reaffirming the commitment to self…and to others (wearing masks, social distancing, washing hands) is imperative, but at a time when we may all be feeling COVID fatigue,” Erin Pfaeffle, director of community engagement for St. Luke’s Wood River Medical Center, said to the Mountain Express. Pfaeffle doesn’t advise completely self-isolating, however.
“Humans are social creatures. Most typically need the connection to others—it prevents loneliness and stress,” she said.
Although the term “social distancing,” might indicate the need to be alone, it in fact is intended to mean physical distancing, “socializing safely is important,” Pfaeffle said.
The Mayo Clinic offers a number of self-care remedies for maintaining mental health during the pandemic, beginning with taking care of your physical body.
“Go to bed and get up at the same times each day,” the clinic states in an article published on April 2.
“Stick close to your typical schedule, even if you’re staying at home.” In addition to sufficient sleep, participating in regular physical exercise, inside or outside, is important along with eating a healthy and well-balanced diet and avoiding tobacco, alcohol and drugs.
Limiting exposure to news media has remained important throughout the pandemic, as “constant news about COVID-19 from all types of media can heighten fears about the disease,” the article states.
Lastly, stay connected however you can; create Zoom activities with friends and coworkers, stay in touch with family through FaceTime or other virtual platforms and consider joining in on virtual events to keep your schedule routine. (For more tips, see Page 8.)
Most importantly, recognize what is and isn’t typical in your own mental health.
“Everyone reacts differently to difficult situations, and it’s normal to feel stress and worry during a crisis. But multiple challenges daily, such as the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, can push you beyond your ability to cope,” the Mayo Clinic article states.
When signs and symptoms of anxiety and/or depression worsen, lasting for several days in a row and adding problems to your daily life, such as finding difficulties carrying “out normal responsibilities, it’s time to ask for help,” the article says.
The mental health resources listed on this page are available to all those in need.