One Life at a Time

Reflections from a child and adolescent psychiatrist in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

COMMENTARY

It is January 17, 2020: The first case of COVID-19 in the United States is reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Although it would take until March of that year for states and municipalities to deploy mandatory lockdowns and quarantines, our country was fully enveloped in what we know today as a worldwide pandemic, unlike anything we have seen for many generations. We also know there have been many victims over the past 2 years, and this has not stopped at the loss of life—it also includes the loss of our collective sense of safety, community, and emotional stability.

To say the past 2 years have made an impact is an understatement.

Personally, COVID-19 has impacted my family on a physical and psychological level. In a strange twist of fate, in addition to being a child and adult psychiatrist, my graduate schoolwork entailed infectious disease and global health policy. I sat at a unique place to both understand what was coming and why we reacted the way we did to shortages and hoarding. Professionally, my child and adolescent practice went from an office to a virtual setting overnight. All the behavioral practitioners know exactly what I am talking about: We saw patients dealing with everything from social and academic issues at school to homebound stressors of isolation and amotivation, as well as existential fears that were beyond the realm of comprehension for adults, let alone for children. Treating others in need while trying to maintain our own mental health and wellness, and that of our friends and family, is an enormous task.

In April 2020, almost 1 month to the day after Denver declared its lockdown, I took on the role of chief medical officer at SonderMind, a company dedicated to redesigning mental and behavioral health through improved access and outcomes, building a community of practitioners, and enabling clients to use insurance to access quality care. I continued my independent practice while taking on the tremendously rewarding, yet daunting, role of helping other providers transition their practices from in-person to virtual while supporting them through a virtual professional community with education and development.

As I write this, COVID-19 continues, but is thankfully trending toward an endemic phase. However, there is no relief from a world of existential threats to freedom and humanity, whether in Europe or on our own shores. I will continue to treat my patients while ensuring other practitioners can treat theirs. There are no easy solutions, but if we lead through compassion and understanding, we can do so much good for so many. It starts with us helping 1 life at a time.

Dr Newton is a child and adolescent psychiatrist and chief medical officer at Sondermind.com.