COVID-19 pandemic, lockdowns taking toll on mental health

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Monday, March 15, 2021
COVID pandemic, lockdowns taking toll on mental health
After a year of lockdowns, isolation, life-altering changes, and loss, there are now growing concerns about a secondary pandemic of mental health.

LONG ISLAND (WABC) -- After a year of lockdowns, isolation, life-altering changes, and loss, there are now growing concerns about a secondary pandemic of mental health.

According to the American Psychological Association, nearly half of adults reported their stress level had increased during the pandemic and 61% said they experienced unwanted weight changes.

They are common symptoms for those struggling to cope with mental health challenges.

Then there's the stress of adjusting to life once the pandemic ends. For example, when will you feel comfortable in a crowd again?

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"I was intubated for a total of 39 days," COVID survivor Brian Jaffe said. "My heart failed 3 times, and I needed CPR."

Jaffe, 54, kept fighting, and he was saved at St. Francis Hospital last year.

Health care heroes and family cheered him on as he was released, but what's next?

Jaffe said he is eternally grateful to be alive, but he's had two surgeries and three hospital stays since.

"It took a severe, severe, toll on my family, on myself," he said.

New York is bracing itself to get back to normal, but what will normal be for people like Jaffe?

"Normal would be not having to worry about, if I'm going out with my wife, if I have enough oxygen in the tank," he said.

He joined a support group with Emerge Rehabilitation and Nursing run by registered nurse Lisa Penziner, who tells us she's seeing all types of PTSD right now -- and not only from those who were sick. The normalcy we're all craving can be terrifying at the same time.

"Walking around without masks, they're afraid to get together," Penziner said. "They're afraid to go out to the stores. They don't wanna be near other people."

RELATED | Support group helps COVID-19 survivors on Long Island dealing with lingering issues

So what's the first way to make progress? Small steps, experts say. You can start by leaving your home for 10 minutes at a time, then working your way up.

But also, they say to embrace the concept of bouncing forward instead of bouncing back.

"There actually have been many lessons learned during the pandemic," Northwell Health psychiatrist Dr. Victor Fornari said. "And by necessity, a lot of things have shifted."

So whether it's handwashing, heat lamps, or working from home, experts say this new normal will work because even for those who nearly lost their lives, the worst is hopefully over.

The challenge now is how to go on living our best lives in the future.

CLICK HERE for more information on the Emerge COVID-19 support group.

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