As Coronavirus affects our lives Mayo Clinic Doctor stresses Mental Health Care

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With the coronavirus pandemic continuing to rage on, and dominate our lives, a silent, new fight has begun in the medical community, our mental health.  

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and with increased anxiety, joblessness, death, isolation and the general uncertainty that accompanies the virus, it's as important as ever according to physicians.  

Nearly half the people in the United States say the coronavirus pandemic is adversely affecting their mental health, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll that came out in early April.  Those numbers certainly aren't going down following five more weeks of stay-at-home orders, record unemployment and the continued cancellation of events across the country, especially now that schools are trying to figure out graduation plans for students

These numbers are likely just the tip of the iceberg according to Dr. Craig Sawchuk, a psychologist from Mayo Clinic in Rochester.  Monday on the Morning News with Dave Lee, Sawchuck said with the kind of stress we've dealt with as a society, it's no surprise that mental health issues have increased. 

"When you think about the amount of uncertainty today, whether it's jobs, financial stability, health-related, it's affected us in multiple ways," said Sawchuck.  "Some of the more common things we initially started to see were stress, restlessness, irritibility.  But as time has gone on, we've seen other stressers and even some depression."

As the coronavirus pandemic has shown however, just getting treatment can be difficult due to physical distancing, something mental health professionals have had to learn to adapt to.  

"We've been doing a lot of phone based or video based visits in order to continue mental health care." 

There has also been an influx of new patients, who Sawchuck says can make some simple adjustments right away.  "We're seeing a lot of new folks coming through to deal with their mental health issues just like they'd do for their physical issues. But there is help and treatment out there for people.  There are multiple pathways to access care.  Some do really well with simple lifestyle changes, with food, excercise and sleep."

If your symptons are more severe, Sawchuck says it is crucial to get help just like you do for physical problems.   

"For people who struggle more, and need some of that face-to-face care, please reach out to your primary care clinic.  A lot of them have connections with mental health services. We're working with people who have never sought care for a mental health problem and are needing it now.  I think what's really important, over the last several years, we've seen a nice reduction in the stigma around mental health.  People are looking at mental health just like they would overall health. That's come a long way and we're seeing it now in the context of the pandemic."  

One thing Sawchuck points out as a positive is how much the pandemic is forcing both medical and mental collaboration between facilities. 

"In the context of crisis, there are two things that come out of this that are actually good.  One, in terms of automation, it's really taken off in a short period of time.  The other is collaboration.  You've seen medical centers come together, sharing information and ideas.  One of the things that a number of us are doing around the state of Minnesota, are looking at our primary care outcomes.  How does the treatment of anxiety and depression look similar, or differ, from face-to-face visits?  Along the way we're collecting outcomes so we can see rates, and also the therapies we're doing are just as effective as face-to-face."