CINCINNATI — While doctors and nurses fight to cure people with COVID-19, psychologists are picking up extra calls to help those with high stress, anxiety and depression brought on by both the disease and the financial fallout it is causing.
“It’s been a lot of panicky people," said therapist Stuart Bassman. "People who have never been in this situation before.”
Bassman has been holding virtual therapy sessions with 22 of his clients every week. He says some of them are facing unemployment or furloughs but all of them feel a sense of powerlessness.
“We don’t quite understand what’s going on as well as there’s a sense of powerlessness on how to deal with it, how to manage it and how to overcome it,” he said. “As a result of that, people’s anxiety and depression has increased dramatically.”
Bassman adds that during this time, it is going to be very normal and natural to feel depressed. The symptoms for depression can include irritability, sleep issues, appetite issues as well as mood fluctuation.
“This will pass," he said. "That’s the most important lesson we need to learn: These thoughts and feelings will pass."
To cope with those feelings, he tells people to turn to the “Rule of R’s”: Focus on relationships, redefining yourself, being resilient in order to reach your renaissance.
For the first “R”, it is vital to turn to technology in order to stay in touch with those important in your life. Whether it be through video chat or through a phone, he says to keep the conversations alive, just like his clients have been doing with him.
“We need to have social distance but we can still have emotional closeness,” he said.
“When people meet each other, one of the first questions they ask is what you do for a living,” he said. “So you’re defined in terms of your occupation, your career, your employment. So when one person loses their job whether its through furlough, being laid off because of the pandemic, there’s a significant loss that occurs.”
So instead, you can redefine yourself by finding new hobbies during this time, whether that be working out, cooking, or knitting. Finding and building a new, healthy routine will help you cope with mental stress. That includes waking up at the same time each morning and doing some kind of exercise, such as a walk.
For the third “R”, he explains it is important that you remember that this is temporary and will pass.
“Recognize that you can bounce back from this,” Bassman said. “This is not going to defeat you. We might be powerless regarding the pandemic but that doesn’t mean we’re helpless in terms of managing our life.”
Reaching your Renaissance
In this step, you will find a new you. He explains that it feels like you are reinventing yourself and at this point you will be stronger than ever predicted.
“We’re building emotional muscle,” Bassman said.
Accessing Mental Health Services and Health Insurance
In order to access a lot of mental health and behavioral services, health insurance can be an important factor.
“With all of the stress that comes with the pandemic, maybe loss of job, our mental health is sometimes a challenge and so we want to make sure we have health insurance coverage just in case we have to access, not only primary care services, but mental health and behavioral services,” said Angela Robinson, the Cincinnati Health Department’s outreach and enrollment manager.
The department has been receiving about 250 extra calls a month from people whose job status has changed and have questions about how to still acquire or keep health insurance.
“Depending on your income, you could be eligible to apply for Medicaid — it’s a federal program, really a state program for Ohio,” Robinson said. “You could apply for coverage until you become employed again and have coverage elsewhere but at least it’ll give you the opportunity to have coverage for primary care, dental care and those behavioral services.”
Another important thing to remember, Robinson said, is that once you lose your health insurance coverage, you have 60 days to apply through marketplace for coverage.
“On day 61 you are no longer eligible to apply for coverage through the marketplace,” she said. “A lot of times that deadline goes by and we get calls all the time from people saying it’s been 90 days, 120 days, and you lose that special enrollment place that you have available through the marketplace after those 60 days.”
Finding the right kind of coverage, especially during this pandemic, is another important step. Cost might be a factor, along with access to specific providers. Robinson says the staff in her department are available to give specialized advice for free.
In order to get help navigating what best health insurance suits you, you can call 513-564-2273.
“You have to do what’s really best for you,” she said. “We don’t charge anything, we’re unbiased.”