By Kelly Werthmann

DENVER (CBS4) – As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, so does its impact on mental health. Hundreds of thousands of lives have been lost in the last year, and not just from the virus. Many Coloradans have developed depression and anxiety, as well as increased substance use. About a third of COVID survivors may develop posttraumatic stress disorder, too.

According to a recent study reported in a JAMA Psychiatry research letter, about 30% of patients who have recovered from COVID-19 developed PTSD. Of the hundreds of patients followed for the study, those who developed PTSD were more likely to be women.

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“Some of the risk factors are being female, having a prior mental health diagnosis, having experienced delirium during the acute phase of the illness as well as protracted physical symptoms after no longer ill,” Dr. Nati Geva, a psychologist with the HealthOne Behavioral Health and Wellness Center in Aurora, explained.

Geva explained many people who have survived the virus may have continued fears of exposure, if they can get COVID again or if they will build immunity.

Mental Health

(credit: CBS)

“What we’re seeing is a lot of both avoidance and hypervigilant behaviors,” she told CBSN Denver’s Kelly Werthmann. “General changes in mood, peaks and valleys, inconsistencies, people really struggling to normalize and being easily triggered by things that remind them of the particular thing that traumatized them while they were sick.”

Pre-pandemic life was not immune to mental health struggles, but Geva said those concerns have skyrocketed since COVID-19 hit.

“We’re looking at a lot of depression and anxiety symptoms,” Geva said of patients. “In addition, we do see the PTSD and we also saw a real significant increase in substance abuse and a lot of suicidal ideation.”

Mental Health America, a community-based nonprofit, found more people are reporting frequent thoughts of suicide and self-harm than have ever before. Geva said we are in the middle of a crisis.

“And we don’t really know how long it’s going to be,” she added. “Even though we’d like to find a silver lining, right now our primary concern is to keep our head above water.”

Her advice: find a routine and stick to it.

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“Having a routine really helps us stay grounded in the present and not get lost,” Geva explained. “Really try to find joy in you day, find pleasure and amplify it, and try to have fun. Whether it’s playing with your kids, working in the garden, going to services, watching a game on TV. Whatever it is, make sure to include that in your day so you have things to look forward to and have hope.”

There will come a day when the pandemic is over, but that doesn’t mean our mental and emotional stresses are going to end right away. Geva offered more advice on how to take care of ourselves not just now, but when the pandemic ends.

“It’s is never too early to start working on our resilience,” she said. “Resilience is either bouncing back from adversity, or even growing from it if possible, or not being affected by it. What’s important is doing things to take care of our physical aspects, but also making sure that we’re surrounded by people who are positive, people who support us, healthy relationships. It’s about knowing when to say ‘no’ and remembering when you say no to one thing you’re saying ‘yes’ to yourself.”

Embrace the good, Geva added, dial down the negative. That will help today and will definitely carry over when COVID-19 is a thing of the past.

If you or someone you know is in need of mental health support, do not hesitate to reach out for help.

RESOURCES:

HealthOne Behavioral Health & Wellness Center

Colorado Crisis Services – 1-844-493-TALK (8255), or text “TALK” to 3825

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National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1-800 273-TALK (8255)

Kelly Werthmann