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While anxiety, depression, loneliness, substance abuse. and domestic violence are inevitable consequences of physical isolation and reduced socialization from coronavirus, emotional strain is not limited to COVID-19.
-Series Editor, H. Steven Moffic, MD
More than ever before, mental health professionals are facing the need to drive groundbreaking, innovative, and fresh delivery systems to treat anxiety, depression, loneliness, substance abuse, and domestic violence. While these are inevitable consequences of physical isolation and reduced socialization, emotional strain is not limited to COVID-19-related challenges.
In a recent edition of JAMA Internal Medicine, Galea and colleagues1 proposed the need “to bolster our mental health system in preparation for the inevitable challenges precipitated by the COVID-19 pandemic.” Perhaps most forward-thinking is their call to recognize “the opportunity to advance our understanding of how to provide prevention-focused, population-level, and indeed national-level psychological first aid and mental health care, and to emerge from this pandemic with new ways of doing so.”
Several years ago, I urged industry leaders at a major fitness conference to leapfrog past the Roman and Greek gymnasium model and create what I called an “optimal health center” (OHC). A singular reason drove my passion and mission then, to equalize health-harming health disparity. Similarly, mental health professionals should seek to offer emotional education to victims of COVID-19 and to encourage early intervention services beyond traditional medical settings.
An OHC model could offer integrated, emotional education to help all patients, not just those with COVID-19-related mental health concerns. It would provide guidance for proper nutrition, physical activity, mental/emotional wellbeing, and recuperative sleep and relaxation. It would focus on preventive care, healthy relationships, continuous renewal, and spiritual balance.
OHC in the aftermath of COVID-19
Psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, and nontraditional lay people can provide psychological first aid in the setting of what was once thought of simply as a gymnasium but now is a center of integrative health. There, people can provide emotional support to each other while creating an inclusive healthier lifestyle. It takes teamwork, focus, and placing health ahead of profit. That might be the greatest challenge.
“Tiffany” is a 43-year-old married mother of three children whose husband is on the verge of losing his job. In the aftermath of the pandemic, going to OHC is a healthy leisure activity. There, she has the opportunity to take a brief emotional education class with a mental health professional on how to meditate for anxiety reduction. She learns how to bring specific guided stress prevention tactics into her yoga stretching. She attends a brief cognitive behavioral class within the OHC aimed at building an optimistic outlook.
It is possible that patients like Tiffany can find a practical, acceptable, easily accessible, and normalizing routine to attend to their emotional well-being. Coupled with that, physical activity can help boost the physiological benefits that exercise brings.
Dr Mantell earned his PhD at the University of Pennsylvania. He has served as Chief Psychologist for Children’s Hospital of San Diego, the San Diego Police Department, and as Assistant Clinical Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at UCSD Medical School.
1. Galea S, Merchant RM, Lurie N. The Mental Health Consequences of COVID-19 and Physical Distancing: The Need for Prevention and Early Intervention. JAMA Intern Med. 2020 Apr 10 [Epub ahead of print].