SPECIAL REPORT: Miami Valley psychologists explain pandemic’s mental health impact

It has been 700 days since Ohio’s first COVID-19 case. The days have come with worry, death, and uncertainty for people in the Miami Valley.

Take Alyssa Hoyng from Celina for example. Less than a year into her career out of college, she never expected the challenges the pandemic would bring.

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Hoyng said she has had mental health issues all her life, but she was in a good place until the pandemic unraveled her.

“I think a lot of it has to do with the loss of normal life,” Hoyng said.

It was so hard for her, she ended up moving back home from Columbus in November.

“I was afraid of what I might do to myself,” Hoyng said.

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She is not alone in her pandemic struggles.

“I think we’re seeing a melting pot of symptoms coming through,” Dr. Aparna Zimmerman said.

Zimmerman, along with fellow clinical psychologists, Dr. Meredith Glick Brinegar, and Dr. Adam Feiner sat down with News Center 7′s Molly Koweek for a conversation on the pandemic’s impact on mental health.

“I do think the longevity of this has played a role, how long it’s been going on, how uncertain some things still are,” Glick Brinegar said.

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Feiner explained the prolonged pandemic-related stress creates challenges.

“It wears the body down, it wears the system down, and increases the risk then of both the physical health issues of exhaustion, of psychological issues, so without that break, the chance to reset ourselves, the risk of ongoing problems or new problems just continues,” Feiner said.

That can make it difficult to treat mental health concerns, including anxiety and depression.

“Because there’s no chance to rest up and really recover in the way that we would like the person to,” Feiner said.

The pandemic is present during therapy sessions.

“Probably most, not all, but a large number of sessions will start with people updating their situation with how they’re managing with Covid,” Glick Brinegar said.

The pandemic can both create mental health issues and exacerbate already existing concerns.

“For many folks, the entire experience of the pandemic is the environmental factor that negatively affects folks, and so they may have developed mental health issues that weren’t there before, and others who had them, surely, that just made them worse,” Feiner said.

While 77 percent of adults in an American Psychological Association survey said they were doing well during the pandemic, 32 percent said COVID-19 related stress makes it difficult to make basic decisions. Generation Z adults and Millennials are having the hardest time with this.

“It may be because they’re still carving out some things in their life with this uncertainty piece, whether it’s their schooling, their careers,” Glick Brinegar said.

The APA’s most recent data also shows because of stress 74 percent of adults dealt with various impacts including headaches, feeling overwhelmed, fatigue, or changes in sleeping habits.

The numbers are higher for parents compared to those without children.

This data shows, different people are experiencing the pandemic differently. For some, but not all, it can be traumatic.

“With trauma, when we look at the definition, a perceived threat to the person’s life or to the life of a loved one, I think we can all agree that we’ve all been in that spot, when the pandemic started. We quarantined, we weren’t even visiting our close family because we were so afraid for them and for ourselves. So in that timeframe have we shifted? Yes. But in that timeframe, it was very much like a traumatic experience for many,” Zimmerman said.

The psychologists also explained, the Miami Valley does not have enough providers.

“Now it’s from four new patient calls a week to maybe 20, 25 new patient maybe more a week, so it’s very difficult to fill that need right now,” Zimmerman said.

This is something Hoyng experienced.

“During the pandemic, it was honestly difficult to get help,” Hoyng said.

She eventually got into group therapy and now she does weekly individual sessions.

“Being able to ask for help and realize that you can’t do it on your own, that is probably the strongest thing that you can do,” Hoyng said.

The psychologists explained, telehealth has been helpful in making therapy more accessible during the pandemic.