How The Pandemic Has Taken A Toll On The Mental Health Of Arizonans

By Bridget Dowd
Published: Tuesday, September 22, 2020 - 5:05am
Updated: Tuesday, September 22, 2020 - 7:43am

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Because the pandemic has so drastically changed how many of us live our day-to-day lives, it’s also taken a toll on our mental health.
Bridget Dowd/KJZZ
A Kaiser Family Foundation poll in July found that 53% of adults in the U.S. reported their mental health has been negatively impacted due to worry and stress over the coronavirus.

Because the pandemic has so drastically changed how many of us live our day-to-day lives, it’s also taken a toll on our mental health.

“I actually have been dealing with clinical depression and anxiety for years before the pandemic, and it definitely made them worse," said Jae.

She’s asked us only to use her first name to protect her privacy. In early spring, Jae was your average Arizona college student — attending classes, hanging out with friends and preparing for a summer internship.

Then came COVID-19 and suddenly everything changed. Her classes and internship moved online, and she started spending a lot more time indoors. She said while medication helps, she needs more than that to maintain a healthy mind.

“My taking antidepressants is also accompanied by me living this healthy lifestyle that is now a little bit more difficult to live because of COVID-19,” Jae said. “I’m not walking and biking to class every day.”

Jae says the medication started to feel less like it was enhancing her good mood and more like it was just keeping her head above water. To make things worse, she ended up contracting COVID-19.

“I had very overwhelming fatigue among a whole host of these other symptoms for two weeks, and I was really worried about what was going to happen to me because there’s still so little that we really know about this virus,” she said.

Jae hit a low point when she tried to take a short walk and it left her feeling completely exhausted.

“I felt like I had done an intense cardio workout — It was that bad,” Jae said. “That definitely weighed on my depression quite a bit and my anxiety as well. All I could think was ‘how long is this going to last for me?’”

While the combination of depression and social isolation may have Jae feeling alone, recent mental health statistics show she’s far from it.

A Kaiser Family Foundation poll in July found that 53% of adults in the U.S. reported their mental health has been negatively impacted due to worry and stress over the coronavirus.

During a press conference earlier this month, Gov. Doug Ducey highlighted other figures that show what he called a “worrying trend.”

“According to the CDC, the percentage of adults reporting thoughts of suicide in the past 30 days rose to more than one in 10, an increase of more than double compared to two years earlier,” Ducey said.

The Kaiser poll also found adults were having difficulty sleeping or eating, as well as reporting increases in alcohol consumption or substance use.

Arizona Psychiatric Society President Dr. Don Fowls
Arizona Psychiatric Society
Arizona Psychiatric Society President Dr. Don Fowls

Arizona Psychiatric Society President Dr. Don Fowls said he’s seen a noticeable uptick in anxiety levels.

“Some of that’s related to being isolated and some of it’s just related to the unknown and what’s going on with the virus,” Fowls said. “I mean we’re learning more each day, but still there are enough unknowns that people are anxious about it.”

Fowls’ group has worked with the Crisis Response Network and other providers in the state to make psychiatric services more available to first responders and health care workers.

He said in some ways the virus has actually improved services for those who need it, as video and phone visits become more common.

“You know when you think about it, you don’t have to drive to and from, and you don’t have to wait in a waiting room,” Fowls said.

But adults aren’t the only ones whose lives have been upended due to COVID-19. While many parents wrestle with their work lives and their children’s remote learning, kids are struggling, too.

Dr. Funda Bachini is a child and adolescent psychiatrist.

“Oftentimes parents feel that if you don’t bring things up to your child and they aren’t talking about it then there’s not a problem and that just isn’t true,” Bachini said.

Dr. Funda Bachini is a child and adolescent psychiatrist.
Luca Bachini
Dr. Funda Bachini is a child and adolescent psychiatrist.

She added that kids notice more than we might think.

“Even my 3-year-old will ask to go to Target with me, and I’ll say ‘no baby, you can’t,’ and she’ll say ‘but I’ll wear my mask,’” Bachini said. 

She said by having honest conversations with their children, parents can build trust.

“So for little kids, there’s social stories and books about COVID and what’s going on,” Bachini said.

For older kids in the 7- to 12-year-old range, she said it’s especially important to validate their feelings, by saying things like: “‘Hey I know that going back to school is going to look different right now. I have questions. You may have questions too. What are you thinking about?’”

But no matter what your age, there are some ways to self-soothe. Dr. Fowls said it may be as simple as doing more of the things you like to do that are still safe, like hiking or reading.

“I wish there was one magic, silver bullet solution for everyone that would just work and — away the anxiety or fears and depression, but we’re all a little different,” Fowls said.

And he said, if you hit a rough patch, there is help out there.

Mental health resources

Suicide Hotlines

National

Arizona Suicide and Crisis Hotlines By County:

  • Maricopa County served by Mercy Care: 1-800-631-1314 or 602-222-9444
  • Cochise, Graham, Greenlee, La Paz, Pima, Pinal, Santa Cruz and Yuma Counties served by Arizona Complete Health - Complete Care Plan: 1-866-495-6735
  • Apache, Coconino, Gila, Mohave, Navajo and Yavapai Counties served by Health Choice Arizona: 1-877-756-4090
  • Gila River and Ak-Chin Indian Communities: 1-800-259-3449
  • Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community: 1-855-331-6432

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