The Next Wave

I’m annoyed. There is so much information on how to stay healthy, manage mental stress, free tools, read this, do that, don’t stay in your pajamas. But the truth is alcohol sales are up, exercising is down. We are sad, scared, stressed, and fearful. The desire to be in my PJs is very strong.  Despite knowing what we need to do, many of us aren’t doing that well.

Recently, CTV news reported that after the COVID-19 pandemic is over, a new wave of mental illness referred to as an Echo Pandemic will hit.This assumes that months of isolation, stress, anxiety, and fear will take a deep toll on us. This Echo Pandemic will include emotional recovery from the trauma of being ill, losing loved ones, jobs, housing, and financial security.  “The long-term impacts are expected to include a rising incidence of addictions, depression, and divorce.” [1]

This is hard for us. This pandemic has shocked us and many will not cope well for a long time. Even if we manage financially and stay well, we’ll still feel the grave impact of COVID-19 on our economy and the health of our communities.

To gain a deeper understanding of what we’re experiencing, we can apply bereavement models as well as trauma concepts.  Bereavement isn’t limited to the grief of losing someone we care about. We can have grief over our lost jobs, lost freedom, and the loss of the pleasure of the life we were living. Bereavement theories tell us we’ll go through stages of grief that include shock, denial, and negotiating. We’ll try to avoid the reality of the situation, and we’ll struggle and push angrily against this new normal.  Eventually, weary, we may feel depressed, but then we’ll accept all we’ve been through, and our new life.

Trauma models show that when the unexpected happens, we don’t know how to make sense of our experience. We may feel a lack of control, and our fears can lead to confusion, intense emotion, anger, insomnia, and irritability. Without a chance to properly process and deal with our unexpected events and overwhelming emotions, longer term symptoms can arise. These include:

  • Acting or feeling as though the traumatic experience is happening again (sometimes called a flashback)
  • Making an effort to avoid thoughts, feelings, or conversations about the experience
  • A loss of interest in important, once positive activities
  • Difficulties having positive feelings, such as happiness or love
  • Feeling constantly on guard or like danger is lurking around every corner. [2]

We may be traumatized. We’ll grieve our losses and the loss of the way things used to be, all in an isolated situation. Combined, these factors will contribute to the Echo Pandemic of mental health issues that are being predicted. It’s critically important that those who need help get help now. Real therapy provided by professionals can help mitigate the risk of future illness.  We should also:

  • Allow ourselves to experience our feelings through these hard times
    • Talk about our feelings, which will destigmatize the emotions we’re all having
    • Use real, virtual therapy, with qualified professionals*
    • Utilize some of the free modules and learning tools being promoted
    • Share our struggles and thoughts with friends and family
    • Use our employee assistance program if we have access to one. These services are available virtually
    • Pay attention to our mental health especially if we’ve struggled previously
    • Support each other, recognizing we’re all experiencing these emotions

If you’re experiencing urgent symptoms or are feeling at risk for hurting yourself or someone else, please call 911 right away.

Judith Plotkin, MSW, Vice President Health Solutions, People Corporation

[1] Dr. Roger McIntyre Professor of Psychiatry and Pharmacology, CBC News April 4, 2020
[2] Lifeline Canada Foundation