Who remembers hitting the 6-month pandemic wall?

And how does it compare to how you’re feeling now that we’ve passed the one year mark?

 

mental health in pandemic

 

I came across this Twitter thread several months ago when we were around that crucial 6-month mark:

 

It was by Dr Aisha Ahmed, an International Security professor at two universities in Toronto, Canada, and also Chair of WIIS Canada. She’s experienced several difficult long term assignments over the years – across Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

With credentials and experience like that, her take on the 6-month pandemic “wall” was definitely something I was interested in reading about.

If you have a moment, I recommend you check it out (even though we’re a loooong way from the 6-month mark now!).

And since we’re just about 1 year into this, I was thinking about the thread again recently, the topic of mental health in general as it relates to the pandemic, and the very real issue of therapist burnout.

 

Mental Health In A Pandemic

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the pandemic has affected our mental health. It might actually be one of the silver linings of this pandemic that we are finally talking more about mental health than ever before.

Despite vaccines beginning to roll out, many areas have had to implement new restrictions and lockdowns to curb the spread of infection until vaccinations can have the desired impact on the population. These restrictions and lockdowns inevitably have an impact on mental health.

This WHO survey from October 2020 backs this up. They found that the “COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted or halted critical mental health services in 93% of countries worldwide while the demand for mental health is increasing”.

The article goes on to state that “bereavement, isolation, loss of income and fear are triggering mental health conditions or exacerbating existing ones. Many people may be facing increased levels of alcohol and drug use, insomnia, and anxiety”.

Additionally, mental health services have been disrupted in many areas. People haven’t had the same level of access to these services (already lacking in many areas) as they had pre-pandemic.

Even people who would consider themselves to have a somewhat robust mental health profile have felt the negative impact.

 

Being a therapist during a pandemic

As therapists, we’re well placed to really see the effects that the sustained restrictions and ongoing uncertainties have had.

Location independent therapists, such as myself and my peers at the LIT Community, are even more uniquely placed. Our colleagues and our clients are located all over the globe and so we’ve been given glimpses into pandemic-life in many different places.

Like almost everything else, therapy itself changed during this pandemic.

Therapists and clinicians alike are experiencing larger caseloads than they’ve experienced in the past two decades – sometimes sacrificing their own self-care in an effort to provide care and support to more clients and patients.

For example, a European summer is typically a slow one for therapists. This is due to a combination of factors – people taking holidays at home, travelling more and even the positive effects of the weather.

However, last summer was the busiest time I’ve ever experienced in my practice. I received so many client requests that I maxed out my capacity and couldn’t accept any new referrals. Likewise, December is usually a pretty quiet month, yet not so in 2020.

This scenario was echoed by most of my colleagues.

As a consequence, therapist burnout is taking its toll.

 

In a Forbes post from January of this year which addresses this topic of therapist burnout, the author outlines some of the measures taken by therapists and clinicians alike to try and cope with increasing caseloads:

  • Skipping breaks
  • Making sessions shorter to fit in more
  • Sacrificing family time
  • Scheduling sessions at odd times of the day

 

Since most mental health professionals have chosen their career path because they want to help people, saying “no” can be quite difficult – especially when you know the people you’re turning away need your help. Yet, clearly, the steps outlined above can’t be a sustainable solution.

Any prolonged period where a therapist has to work beyond their boundaries will inevitably lead to burnout and that’s no good for anyone.

The pandemic has had, and continues to have, drastic effects on mental health. For our clients and for us therapists.

 

Therapy during a pandemic

Being a digital nomad, I’ve been providing online mental health services for a long time. It is convenient when you have limited mobility or live far away from a therapist clinic. Even in other circumstances, telehealth is a great way to access therapy when you might not otherwise be able to.

At the beginning of this crisis, many of my “offline” colleagues found themselves suddenly thrust into the world of online therapy – a world that they may never have had any intention of being a part of.

Some of them have been able to embrace telehealth as a viable option for their service delivery and will make it a more permanent option in their businesses while others are very much looking forward to returning to in-person consultations as soon as possible.

But what has made this moment truly unique is that all of my clients and I are facing the same crisis simultaneously. It’s definitely been and still is a very unique situation from that perspective.

And as I mentioned above, I’ve witnessed myself and my colleagues become busier than ever. I’ve also seen a trend in terms of the issues cropping up during sessions – I can sense a lot more anxiety and grief, for example.

 

Reduced choices during the pandemic & what we’ve done instead

Even if our choices have been limited by the circumstance of these many months, we humans have an immense power to cope with all sorts of situations that might be thrown at us.

What sorts of things have we done this past year to cheer ourselves up?

We got in touch with our family and friends.

We got in touch with ourselves.

We cooked special meals.

We exercised.

We did what we felt like without considering rules since we were at home. We spent more time doing what we like.

We slept.

We wore a lot of comfy clothes.

We took a break from the productivity contests.

And we also made a list of things that we would do once the lockdown ends.

So, amidst all the devastation and uncertainty, there *have* been some inspirational and positive aspects.

In many ways the pandemic has forced us to stop, take a breath (or many) and reconsider our priorities in life. And while I am very much looking forward to “getting back to normal” I also do hope that we will take some of the positive things we experienced and tried out over the course of this very very long last year into this “new normal”, from widespread availability of telemental health to more flexible remote work options all the way to more quality time with the people that really matter.

 

Conclusion

Most of us never imagined we’d still be in the thick of things a full year after the global pandemic first started affecting our daily lives and no matter how long it takes for things to get back to “normal”, we will be dealing with the aftermaths of this pandemic for quite some time. There is a lot of work to be done to rest, recover and rebuild once we can, but until then, resilience over resistance is the way to get through all of this.

And give yourself a break. If you’re feeling particularly discouraged in the face of further restrictions or by the fact that we’re just about a full year into this, or if you’ve been fearing the loss of creativity or motivation, remember the words of Dr Aisha Ahmed;

“This dip is not permanent, nor will it define you through this time of adversity… Don’t fear “We have navigated a harrowing global disaster … with resourcefulness & courage. We have already found new ways to live, love, and be happy under these rough conditions.”

 

mental health in pandemic