By Judy Peterson

It was my wedding day and I’d planned a beautiful sit down dinner reception but had forgotten to order the dishes and silverware people would need to eat it! Frantic, I raced to the reception venue and was promptly told I could rent utensils for an extra $10,000…

Fortunately, I woke up right after that and realized I was having yet another strange dream – my fifth since going into lockdown.

I call them “fantasmagorical” dreams – part fantasy, part magic, definitely weird.

Numerous media are reporting that COVID-19 induced stress and anxiety are disrupting many peoples’ sleep and causing them to have weirdly vivid dreams, too.

But COVID’s impact goes well beyond dreaming. The financial impacts are already well-documented and now the mental health impacts are being scrutinized.

In San Jose, Dr. Nivedita Lakhera described the mental health impacts she’s seeing as an “emerging epidemic.”

“Social distancing is crucial but we have to check on each other, especially those with underlying mental health issues,” Dr. Lakhera said. “I don’t want people to hide their emotions and I don’t want people to fight their emotions. It’s important that people acknowledge and share their emotions.”

The National Alliance on Mental Illness, NAMI, says nearly one in five American adults experience mental illness each year. But the impacts go well beyond the individual, affecting family members, caregivers and society in general.

That’s why the NAMI COVID-19 Information and Resource Guide addresses everything from stress to anxiety, isolation and grieving.

One result of COVID-19 symptoms, Dr. Lakhera said, will be an increase in Post-traumatic stress disorder.

“We are absolutely going to see a spike in PTSD,” she said. “My friends across the country are waking up in the middle of the night – they’re having panic attacks and anxiety attacks, and those with underlying mental health disorders are having worsening depression.”

She’s especially worried about first responders.

“It’s mentally, emotionally draining and isolating especially to healthcare workers,” she said. “I had one doctor contact me with suicidal ideations. I’m very deeply concerned because it’s taking an immense toll on frontline healthcare workers – whether it’s physicians, nurses, paramedics, firefighters or respiratory therapists.”

She cited healthcare workers in New York City and even tiny Valdosta, Georgia who have “absolutely no protection” on the job.

“They are at so much high risk of catching the disease and they see their colleagues dying from it,” she said. “They see politicians not having a clear-cut policy for managing the disease and this is taking an immense emotional toll on all of us.”

Dr. Lakhera says there’s plenty of help available for people suffering from COVID-related mental health problems, including medication.

“We can screen it, we can treat it,” she said. “With early recognition and treatment, we can prevent morbidity.”

To prevent going into a deep depression or even just a funk, the experts agree that no one should be alone – reach out to neighbors, the elderly, people you know who may be at risk. Don’t watch too much news. Move around. And ask for help if you need it.

The 22-page NAMI COVID-19 guide also lists phone numbers and web sites for health-related resources to help people deal with the pandemic. You can find it at nami.org.

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