All across the country now, the reports of pandemic anxiety are growing.
It was only a matter of time. Even before COVID-19 invaded everyone’s life, anxiety disorders were rampant in the U.S.
Almost a third of Americans experience an anxiety disorder at some point in life, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, and “an estimated 19.1 percent of U.S. adults had any anxiety disorder in the past year. Past year prevalence of any anxiety disorder was higher for females (23.4 percent) than for males (14.3 percent).”
And now comes the mother of all frights – a new, previously unknown, invisible and indiscriminate, mass murderer that makes the rare, random mass shootings that have terrorized the country in the past pale by way of comparison.
“People who never felt anxious are feeling anxious,” Lisa Conway, a therapist at the Relate Counseling Center in Minnetonka, Minn. in the Midwest tells CBS Minnesota. “What we’re discovering is that a lot of people are experiencing their anxiety in symptoms that mimic what COVID-19 is supposed to look like.”
“We are beginning to see a significant impact on the mental health of everyday Americans as a result of the pandemic,” Cohen Veterans Network president and chief executive officer Dr. Anthony Hassan reports from Stamford, Conn. on the East Coast. “Before the pandemic, there was already a mental health crisis in America, with high demand and relatively limited resources, the pandemic appears to be making it worse. And we know isolation can have negative consequences in terms of anxiety, depression, and suicidality.”
With 191 Alaskans known to be infected with COVID-19, 23 in hospital, and six dead, according to the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, Alaskans are as deep in the anxiety as any other Americans.
Lots of advice
Google “pandemic anxiety” and you’ll find hundreds websites offering mental-health advice.
Instead, “take deep breaths, stretch, or meditate; try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals; excercise regularly” and get plenty of sleep; stay off the booze and avoid drugs, the federal agency says.
Call a friend to talk about nothing, and if gets too much there’s “the Disaster Distress Helpline (1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746).”
The only good news here is that if you’re stressed out, you’re not the only one struggling to hold it together.
A poll commissioned by Cohen Veterans, a nonprofit that operates 15 mental health clinics across the nation, found 70 percent of Americans are now worried about their physical health and 58 percent fear mental health issues linked to social distancing.
Social media hints at tensions only increasing.
A new CDC recommendation that people wear surgical masks or other “face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies) especially in areas of significant community-based transmission” is being taken by some as an order.
And they are not happy that others are disregarding it.
“That’s why this virus crap is out of control!” reads one post on an Alaska community Facebook site. “People are non-caring until it happens to them . Maybe this is Mother Nature way of getting rid of the scum of the earth!!”
“Had the same experience grocery shopping wearing a mask,” added another. “Wish I could have communicated…I am doing this for you! What are you doing for me!”
As of this time, no one in the country appears to have been assaulted for not wearing a mask, but that seems inevitable amid growing tensions world wide.
“United Nations Secretary General António Guterres today warned of a “horrifying global surge in domestic violence” towards women as a result of government lockdowns to try to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The New York Times hours later labeled domestic violence “A New Covid-19 Crisis.”
The pandemic has undoubtedly unnerved many. It is easy to be afraid.
A widely circulated COVID-19 model produced by the University of Washington (UW) predicted 1,967 Americans would die of the disease today. And Worldometers, a generally respected tracking source, was reporting more than 700 dead in the U.S. Sunday, but there is general agreement among health authorities the daily numbers are low because of delays in reporting.
COVID-19 yesterday killed 10 times as many people in the state of New York alone, almost twice as many in Michigan, and one and a half times as many in New Jersey while also killing 20 people or more in at least seven other states.
The only good news was that it was expected to be worse.
The model from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at UW projected 1,745 deaths on Sunday, but the leader of the UW project is now saying new data makes it appear the model is biased high.
The course of the pandemic remains extremely difficult to assess, as researchers at Oxford University’s Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine (CEBM) noted today.
“Everywhere we look we cannot get a handle on the essential facts or at times we get two completely different answers to the same question,” they wrote. “The military historian Sir Basil Liddle Hart would have called this ‘the fog of a pandemic’ or perhaps the ‘fog of information overload’.”
When experts looking for answers are overwhelmed by the data and unable to draw conclusions, it is understandable that lay people might be on the verge of a freak out.
Especially when one of the facts that has become obvious is that COVID-19 carriers are everywhere among us, and probably among us even in communities not yet visibly touched by the disease.
As a CEBM chart of COVID-19 studies records, the reports on the number of asymptomatic or mildly infected people carrying the disease range from a low of 4 percent to a high of 80 percent.
Asymptomatic people have the disease, but have no symptoms. Given that, they have no way of knowing they are infected unless they are tested, and there is a lack of testing for COVID-19 because of a lack of testing capabilities.
Literally anyone reading this could have COVID-19. A seemingly clean friend could infect you. A family member who went shopping for groceries could pick the virus up anywhere and bring it home to share with everyone in the house.
COVID-19 is insidious in that regard, which is what makes it so scary to so many.
The best data on the risk might be coming from the tiny country of Iceland where the government has begun widespread, random testing to analyze the scope of the pandemic.
To date, according to the country’s official website, 27,467 people – about 8 percent of the nation’s population – have been tested. Of those 27,467, about 6 percent – 1,562 – were found to be infected.
About half of those with the disease have shown no symptoms, meaning about 800 people have come down sick. Of those, 37 or about 4 percent are now hospitalized. Four, or 0.26 percent, of all those found infected with COVID-19 have died, but 11 remain in intensive care.
More than 60 percent of those who showed symptoms have, however, recovered.
Despite the seemingly large and growing national and global death tolls, your individual odds of getting sick with COVID-19 remains low, and your odds of surviving if you do get sick remain high.
As in other countries, the Iceland data show a very low infection rate among children with an increasing rate among teenagers and a concentration of victims between the ages of 20 and 70.
Eighty-three percent of those in Iceland infected with the disease are in that age group, but again as in other countries, the Icelanders who’ve proven most vulnerable are old.
Two women and a man in their seventies have died along with an Australian tourist in his thirties. He passed away in mid-March and was later found to be positive for COVID-19.
Overall, according to Dr. Hans Henri P. Kluge, the WHO regional director for Europe, “over 95 percent of (European) deaths occurred in those older than 60 years” and “eight out of 10 deaths are occurring in individuals with at least one underlying co-morbidity, in particular those with cardiovascular diseases, hypertension and diabetes, but also with a range of other chronic underlying conditions.”
Similar rates are being seen around the globe. As a result, the elderly and those with pre-existing medical conditions are being advised to take extreme precautions, the easiest of which is to avoid other people as much as possible.
If you’re an older Alaskan with a well-stocked cabin in the backcountry, this might be a good time to move in for a while if you can get there. State officials on Monday said it is OK to travel to such locations as long as you don’t stop anywhere along the way, but the “social distancing” directive of maintaining a 6-foot separation remains in place whether you are wearing a face mask or not.
That makes it pretty much impossible to board a small-plane flight to anywhere.