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Jane Simoni is quoted in this Seattle Times article about mental health and the length of the pandemic.

In Seattle as everywhere, hope is ahead — but we haven’t hit the ‘post’ in post-traumatic stress from COVID-19

 By Paige Cornwell Seattle Times staff reporter

We’re still in a pandemic and people are dying and I got sick and my grandma died and I lost my job and I started hating my kids and I ran out of toilet paper and I never see my friends and I can’t hug my mom and the hospitals were at capacity and this all has gone on for months.

Deep breath.

A year into the COVID-19 pandemic, the “what ifs” having come true, therapists hear story after story of collective trauma, of grief, of loss, all through a computer or phone screen. A year into the pandemic, they’re navigating a still-unprecedented time, one that was worse than they could have imagined.

There was also the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police and the protests that followed, unhealthy air from massive wildfires, the presidential election and the siege on the U.S. Capitol. And as the nation goes through a second March in a pandemic, feelings of grief and hopelessness are heightened over a year that’s been lost, and so are the feelings of anxiety over what a post-pandemic world might look like.

The country will need to grapple with mental health concerns that won’t disappear just because people are vaccinated, therapists say.

Countless surveys and studies have looked at rates of depression and anxiety that emerged or were exacerbated over the past year, and specific issues affecting populations that have been hit hardest, like young adolescents struggling over Zoom school or octogenarians isolated at home or in nursing-home rooms.

Among the findings: Forty percent of Americans reported anxiety or depressive disorder during the pandemic, which is four times more than pre-pandemic, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, and higher rates of women, Black and Hispanic Americans and essential workers reported the same symptoms. A national hotline in 2020 received 176,645 more calls asking for referrals for mental or substance abuse disorders than in 2019, an increase of 27%. A Gallup poll found that more Americans rated their mental health worse in 2020 than any year in the past 20.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reported a 70% increase in phone calls and other messages compared with 2019, and NAMI Seattle’s call volume increased by about 50% in the summer and fall, according to program manager Katie Mahoney. NAMI Seattle has also seen specific upticks in calls and requests from parents of youth and young adults whose families are struggling with mental health challenges.

“Trying to pretend that we as a society are going to come out of this unscathed is setting us up for some ‘shoulds’ that will be harmful,” said Katherine Walter, owner of Catalyst Counseling, a Woodinville-based (before everyone moved to working from home) practice with 10 clinicians. “We will be marked, but let’s see how we can be the healthiest we can be as this plays out.”

Multiple times per day, she reminds clients that we haven’t reached the “post” in post-traumatic stress. We’re still in the trauma.      

Within the emotional response to a disaster cycle — a way experts track behavioral health experiences following a major event — Washington remains in the disillusionment phase.

This phase is characterized by trouble with cognitive function (also known as “pandemic brain fog”), depression and anxiety symptoms, fatigue and burnout, according to the Washington State Department of Health’s Behavioral Health Strike Team. Disillusionment began in the fall, around the four- to six-week period heading into the presidential election, dark evenings because of daylight saving time, and a new wave of COVID-19 cases and deaths, said Kira Mauseth, psychology senior instructor at Seattle University and co-lead of the state’s Strike Team. 

The anniversary of when cases started rising and the economy shut down can conjure several types of reactions, according to the Strike Team. One is despair or hopelessness about the past year, as well as apathy or anger about the restrictions still in place.

“The length of the containment is beyond what most of us thought it was going to be,” said Jane Simoni, a University of Washington psychology department professor and director of clinical training. “No one was thinking we would close society for 12 months. With the anniversary, it’s the fatigue of it, we can’t believe it’s really 12 months. It’s astounding to acknowledge it’s been this long.”

Another area of concern surrounding an anniversary is significant grief and loss. This is most pronounced among people who have lost loved ones or been connected to deaths, but can impact anyone.

Read the entire article here.