Mental Health Issues Loss of sense of smell and taste, fatigue, difficulty breathing, fever, cough, and more. Two years into the pandemic, Chicagoans know these physical symptoms of Covid-19 all too well. But the effects of coronavirus go well beyond the physical. Covid fears, grief, and anxiety have also taken a massive toll on people’s mental health.

According to the National Center for Health Statistics’ (NCHS) preliminary research, seen by Forbes Magazine, around a third of people in the U.S. have experienced symptoms of clinical depression, anxiety, or both since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. More than two years into the pandemic, Americans are still struggling with the mental health effects of the coronavirus.

Locally in Chicago, roughly two-thirds of suburban residents and 73% of urbanites are still worried about mental health and wellbeing, according to a recent Harris Poll survey. In fact, from the survey’s list of ten most burning public health concerns, Chicagoans quoted mental health at 69%, just behind public safety at 70%, and the pandemic itself at 79%. Even more interesting, Chicago residents cited mental health as an actively concerning issue more than a chronic disease, obesity, and drug addiction.

Chicago’s workforce still struggling mentally because of the Covid-19 pandemic

According to the New York Times, the number of Americans who have lost their lives to Covid-19 has surpassed 1 million and continues to grow; millions more are struggling with long-term physical and psychological health effects. And while widespread vaccination has been found to protect people from getting hospitalized or dying from COVID-19, there’s no apparent immunization for the mental scars that resulted from over two years of prolonged isolation, stress, sadness, hopelessness, anxiety, and fear.

Research by the American Psychological Association found that the rates of depression and anxiety among American adults grew by a factor of four between the onset of the pandemic and August 2021 compared to the rates in 2019. Another survey by Harvard University noted a dramatic increase in the number of workers facing mental health challenges from 2019 to 2021.

The mental health impact of Covid was experienced even more intensely by essential workers – such as healthcare providers, restaurant employees, first responders, teachers, grocery store employees – and those living with them during the pandemic. According to the poll, roughly 50% of Chicago residents who identified as essential workers, and 54% of those who report living with one in their household, say that the pandemic harmed their mental health.

Overall, 44% of all Chicagoans believe that their mental health was affected or harmed by Covid. This goes beyond the portion of Chicago-area residents who believe they suffered physical harm from Covid-19. That is perhaps why more mental health solutions are fast-growing in the Chicago area, including Geode Health West Loop practice in Chicago, which will offer a variety of therapy services that will help future patients.

These figures from Chicago corroborate the findings of APA’s 2021 Work and Well-being Survey, which noted elevated levels of burnout and stress across the spectrum, particularly among healthcare providers and teachers. These public-facing workers experience additional fears, stress, and anxiety that stem from the pandemic. 

Other issues that exacerbate the mental health effects of Covid-19 on these essential workers include the feeling that they’re not supported enough by their leaders and employers. As well as the politicization of vaccines and mask mandates. More than that. The Harris Poll study found that most Chicago suburban and city residents don’t believe local leaders and state officials have carried out enough measures to tackle Covid-related mental health issues among workers.

Burden weighing heavily on healthcare workers

Healthcare providers have been on the frontlines throughout the coronavirus crisis. Not only treating Covid-19 patients but also working with them throughout the many different phases of the pandemic. But. As with everyone else. Healthcare workers in the Chicago area are not safe from the heightened burden of COVID-related stress and anxiety.

Healthcare workers are also equally susceptible to problems that may affect their mental health. Such as increased substance abuse. Sleeping and eating disorders, mental exhaustion, irritability, family conflict, depression, and anxiety. Additionally. They tend to think they should be superhuman. While some are self-critical and don’t let themselves feel or be aware of the anxiety that everyone else feels.

To help healthcare workers cope. Various hospitals. Health systems. And state agencies have put in place in-person and virtual support groups. Some healthcare workers have embraced meditation. yoga. And other meditative practices. While others seek ongoing therapy services.

Conclusion

The identity of at-risk workers may look different from one organization to the next. However, it’s clear that Chicago-area employees are still reeling from the mental health effects of the pandemic. The most effective way to identity and provide support is for employers and other stakeholders to engage in supportive. Open. And honest dialogues with workers.

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