Life has changed quite dramatically in the past few months with the rapid spread of the novel coronavirus and the shutdown of many areas of economic and social life.
As we struggle with the likelihood that we are months (or more) away from a return to “normal life,” many of us are experiencing emotional and psychological effects.
There are obvious struggles with financial and economic hardship and uncertainty, heightened as commodity prices continue to drop and farmers are unable to market their livestock, even for significant losses. Many small businesses risk bankruptcy and closure.
For many, especially those with health risks, significant anxiety remains regarding fear of contracting the virus itself.
Additional contributors to worsening anxiety and overall well-being include:
- Lack of in-person social contact
- Limited physical touch
- Fear of the unknown
- Stress from trying to balance work and caregiving responsibilities
- Reduced structure and purpose for those now working from home
- Increased time to think (and feel)
- Significantly reduced access to important self-care, social and recreational activities because they are closed and/or caregiving burden makes it impossible to access them
- Potentially increased conflict with family members (related to all of the stressors and life changes described above, as well as more time together generally)
Because “the show must go on” for farmers and farm workers — livestock need to be cared for and crops put in the ground — life may not have changed as much as it has for those in urban areas or in other vocations. However, the effects of the virus are pervasive and we have all been touched.
There is an increase in anxiety, depression, addiction and other struggles, and for many people, underlying mental health problems are worsening.
A small sampling of the things my clients are reporting in recent weeks include:
- Anxiety about contracting or spreading coronavirus, and fears about a loved one contracting it
- Loneliness and depression, especially for those living alone, which can be so severe it leads to (or worsens) suicidal thoughts
- Parents overwhelmed by caretaking responsibilities, especially for those with special needs children who now have no respite care, no breaks, and no ability to engage in necessary self-care activities
- An increase in addictive behaviors (including emotional eating, alcohol and other drug use, technology use, gambling, compulsive shopping, pornography use)
- Financial concerns
- Grieving the loss of a loved one without access to the rituals and emotional support that can help us find hope and faith (limitations on funerals, inability to hug our loved ones)
- Anxiety about having to undergo serious medical procedures alone, with limits on caregivers’ entry into facilities
- An increase in marital or family conflict
If any of these stories sound familiar, please know you are not alone. While the experiences described above make perfect sense given the strange and uncertain times we find ourselves in, they are not always easy or possible to navigate.
For some people, simply talking to others who are in the same boat (i.e., isolated and overwhelmed) is extremely helpful. Finding something to look forward to and/or to focus energy on is also important. For others, it may be important to consider seeking formal mental health services and support.
One silver lining of this current crisis is many rural Americans now have increased access to mental health services through the use of telehealth (i.e., virtual face-to-face meetings with a mental health provider that use HIPAA-secure technology). Health insurance companies have waived regulations that previously prevented telehealth, made it difficult to access, or made it cost prohibitive for patients and providers.
While there are some important differences between in-person mental health care and virtual mental health care, telehealth is a wonderful option for those who live in an area without adequate mental health services.
Iowa psychologists and other mental health providers are advocating at the state (and federal) levels for expanded telehealth services even after this crisis is over. If approved, these regulations would allow many more Iowans to access needed mental health services.
Dr. Lauren Welter is a licensed psychologist. She lives on a livestock and crop farm near Monticello, Iowa, with her husband and their children. Contact her through www.prairiehomewellness.com or call 319-975-8705.