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Entering the “Fourth Wave” of the COVID-19 Pandemic: Mental Health Edition

After more than a year’s battle with the fatal coronavirus, many believe that the worst of the pandemic’s physical health symptoms are finally behind us. Though the Covid-19 vaccines brought the world a collective sense of relief, experts are now fearing the mental consequences of the ongoing virus and labeling it the “fourth wave” of the pandemic.

“We have had 9 months of chronic stress, where your body is on some level of fight or flight,” said Luana Marques, Ph.D., the director of community psychiatry at PRIDE. “Often what you see clinically is that when that stressor goes away, people … have the capacity to understand how much this has affected them.”

The Fourth Wave 

Since the start of the pandemic, experts feared the virus’s toll on the population’s mental health. Thus, as the world walks the steady path of recovery, speculations of a ‘fourth wave’ of poor mental health are emerging rapidly, and statistics are proving the dire phenomena. 

Moreover, experts are attributing the surge in mental health challenges rates to months of quarantine and physical distancing, rise in job loss, global economic uncertainty, housing and food insecurity, as well as school closures.

Nevertheless, the pandemic didn’t only pause our “normal” social life, but it also caused the death of many friends and family members. Thus, “If you think of that bereavement as grief, that’s not necessarily mental illness … that’s just pain, emotional pain, that needs to be validated and normalized and expressed out loud,” said Jessica Gold, MD, of Washington University in St. Louis. “Until we really do that, I think we’re kind of stalled in healing.”

A surge in suicidal thoughts 

Canadian research even determines the increase of suicidal thoughts as a direct and indirect result of the pandemic. In 2016, only 2.5 percent of the general Candian population reported having suicidal thoughts. However, due to Covid-19, these numbers increased to reach six percent of the population. 

The study also sheds light on the greater mental impact the pandemic is having on minorities and marginalized groups. “Folks who are from racial and ethnic minority backgrounds are doubly — or sometimes triply — hit because we are also dealing with the trauma of vicariously witnessing racism through the height of very publicized police brutality,” said Ayana Jordan, MD, Ph.D., of the Yale University School of Medicine. “All of these things together are hitting folks from marginalized backgrounds.”

In the US, only 15-19% of adults reported anxiety or depression symptoms before COVID-19. However, according to CDC survey data, these numbers increased now to reach more than 31%, with 11% of them seriously considering suicide. Furthermore, almost all of the states are reporting a rise in overdose deaths, while medical examiners are reporting a surge in suicides. A study in Maryland even determined that suicides among African Americans had doubled throughout the pandemic.

Age differences and mental health challenges

Reports mostly highlight young adults as the generation affected the most by the pandemic’s mental health consequences. “People from all walks of life have been hit hard by COVID-19, although different age groups tend to differ in the types of stressors that they’re experiencing,” Steven Taylor, a professor and clinical psychologist at the University of British Columbia.

A Pew Research Center survey also stated that young adults from ages 18 to 29 are more likely to report their struggle with anxiety, depression, or loneliness compared with other age groups. Additionally, almost half of the adults under 30 admit that they feel  “nervous, anxious or on edge” at least “occasionally or a moderate amount of time”. 

Dealing with the remaining anxiety 

According to the Executive Director of the valley community, Kimberly K. McClanahan, some forms of anxiety will continue to linger even after life turns back to normal. However, recognizing the symptoms, reaching for help, and being patient with yourself can go a long way. 

“Take it in small chunks,” she said.”Exercise sparks our emotional resilience and it really gets those endorphins going, it really helps us be less depressed. Some of these are really practical things: eating well, getting enough sleep, and becoming socially engaged again as you feel comfortable.”

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