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The Lasting Effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic: Bracing for the “Mental Health Tsunami”

In addition to the widespread socio-economic distress, civil unrest, and political destabilization, yet another wave of COVID-19 is weighing down the already overwhelming burden of the ongoing pandemic on public health. The viral outbreak has taken a tremendous toll on the global healthcare system and the physical wellbeing of millions across the globe. Yet further still, it has contributed to the festering of a mental health epidemic that will long outlast the pandemic environment. ”

An array of additional risk factors is compounding the mental health challenges facing the global population, ranging from unemployment and underemployment to increasing healthcare costs, childcare concerns, and mounting racial inequities. On top of this, mental healthcare services have become inaccessible to many individuals in the United States as COVID-19 restrictions shuttered facilities, suspended support groups, and moved many services to online platforms. The immense psychological burden has acute effects on public health, leading experts to forecast an impending “mental health tsunami” – one of the biggest post-pandemic issues facing the population in 2021 and the years to come.

Alarming State of Mental Health

According to a recent Gallop survey, national mental health is at the lowest point it has been at any time in the previous 20 years. Data gathered by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveals a stunning 35% increase in annual suicide rates from those between 1999 to 2018. Furthermore, the number of individuals who have seriously considered suicide has increased significantly since 2019. At the same time, rates of drug overdoses have surged as the prevalence of substance abuse is on the rise with increasing numbers of people struggling to cope with the repercussions of the global health emergency. These numbers are only the tip of the iceberg; research published by the Journal of the American Medical Association estimates that pandemic-related psychological harm will account for $1.58 trillion of financial aftermath.

Rising Mental Health Stressors and Statistics

Mounting social isolation, loneliness, and sleep disturbances are among the many stressors adding to the communal psychological burden. Although high levels of reported loneliness were prevalent before the pandemic, the associated social distancing and quarantine measures have greatly exacerbated its effects. Per data from a 2018 Cigna study, most Americans report being lonely, and loneliness has increased with each subsequent generation. Between March and June of 2019, 41% of adults aged between 50 and 80 reported a lack of companionship, 45% reported feeling socially isolated, and 46% had infrequent social contact – a significant increase in these measures over the prior year.

In 2018, suicide was the 10th leading cause of death overall in the United States as well as the second leading cause of death among 10-34-year-olds and fourth among 35-54-year-olds. Statistics reveal that 12 million adults seriously considered suicide in 2019; 3.5 million had made plans to commit suicide while 1.4 million attempted suicide that year. These alarming figures uncover the mental health crisis prevalent in the U.S. population prior to the implementation of severe pandemic mitigation restrictions which have further plunged individuals into social isolation.

Without support, many individuals may face difficulties in recovery from mental health disorders that thrive in isolation, such as eating disorders and substance use disorders. Rising levels of anxiety, depression, and other mental health risk factors are commonly associated with eating disorders alongside the lack of structure, increased time spent in triggering environments, and mounting difficulties in finding privacy for telehealth and virtual support services. These additional challenges result in increases in disordered behaviors and subsequent relapses.

Implications of Persisting Inequities

The COVID-19 pandemic – and the differential health outcomes and treatment opportunities associated with it – continues to highlight prevailing racial, ethnic, and social inequities affecting millions of Americans. Communities of color have been particularly affected, although a lack of reporting of statistics obscures our understanding of the true impact of the virus on marginalized demographics. Furthermore, barriers to access to support services and adequate healthcare are especially prevalent in disadvantaged neighborhoods, primarily affecting marginalized groups.

For instance, the Native American people’s access to mental health services on reservations has declined even further with no improvements expected by the end of 2021.

In an interview with CNN, Jacque Gray, associate director of Center for Rural Health at University of North Dakota, shared: “I know of one tribe where they have had multiple suicides between the ages of 20-40, leaving children to be raised by grandparents with no support for counseling for the kids or help for the grandparents.”

Research also reports large increases in depression particularly among Asian groups, which are reporting negative mental health symptoms due to pandemic-related racism. At the same time, some members of the LGBTQ+ community have been forced to shelter in place with people who may not be accepting of their gender or sexual orientation. Rates of suicidal ideation have surged among youth in 2020 although these numbers are especially high among young LGBTQ+ people.

“The simple fact is inequity kills,” Lisa Carlson, past president of the American Public Health Association told CNN. “We see those unequal things impacting health directly in the pandemic and really shining a light on problems that we knew were there but are much harder to ignore now.”

Preparing for the Mental Health Epidemic

In addition to concerns about missed diagnoses and delayed medical treatments, the strained healthcare system and its professionals must prepare for the challenges to come. No singular entity can solve the forthcoming mental health crisis; instead, all components of the healthcare system and governmental agencies will need to work in tandem to optimize national psychological care. Experts at Wellbeing Trust published a roadmap for transforming the current mental healthcare system to better prepare it for the current and future mental health crisis. An essential action item is the engagement of the new federal administration and elected officials to find efficient methods for minimizing healthcare costs while enhancing both the quality of care and patient outcomes. Furthermore, experts call for large-scale applications of emerging and existing technologies to help optimize the accessibility and effectiveness of the system.

As further psychological stressors continue to compound, the impending mental health crisis may necessitate a widespread intervention. In the interim, clinicians and other medical professionals are encouraged to pay particular attention to the psychological symptoms of their patients as well as their own.

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Burick Center Staff MemberTracy Koval

Office Manager

Tracy joined the Burick Center for Health & Wellness in June of 2016 to help patients by managing various aspects of the office. Tracy brings more than three decades of medical office experience as the former office manager of a multi-specialty group and also works on a part-time basis as a Patient Service Rep at a local urgent care center.

Tracy’s favorite part of working in a medical practice is the opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life by helping them navigate through the maze of health care. She loves being part of the dynamic team at the Burick Center.

Tracy likes to spend time with her family. She has two sons, Mason, who is living and working in Philadelphia as a Sr. Analyst for a marketing firm, and Spencer, who works at Hershey Entertainment & Resorts.

Burick Center Staff MemberTom Baker

Strategy Officer

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Burick Center Staff MemberRena Geesaman

Patient Coordinator

Rena Geesaman is a Registered Medical Assistant who enjoys providing attentive and caring client service. She is very happy to be part of the Burick Center team where patient care is our number one focus.

Her goal is to do everything within her power to ensure every interaction leaves you feeling well cared for and perhaps even delighted.

Rena volunteers by serving as board treasurer for Carlisle Christian Academy. She also helps facilitate a program at River of God Church for single, pregnant girls which provides practical, emotional and spiritual support.

Outside of the office Rena enjoys hiking, traveling, tending to her flower beds, hosting meals on their back deck, enjoying time with dear friends, loving on her little dogs, and best of all spending time with family. Being fairly new grandparents, she and her husband Don are always happy to share pictures of their little grandson, Lucas. Feel free to ask! She considers herself amazingly blessed!

Burick Center Staff MemberDr. Peter Lu

Acupuncturist

Dr. Peter Lu trained and worked in New York City for 15 years and recently moved to central PA. He studied pre-med at Brooklyn College and attended medical school at SUNY Downstate in Brooklyn. Thereafter he worked in the inner city hospitals of New York City, and lastly had the honor of caring for people with his sister in Stamford, Connecticut.

Dr. Lu greatly appreciates open lines of communication as it pertains to questions you may have about your ailment and how acupuncture could help in the healing process. His intention to address your needs to the best of his ability.

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Burick Center Staff MemberLee Morand

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Lee has had the sincere pleasure of working in the Greater Harrisburg area for over 20 years. She relocated to Harrisburg in 1990 after completing her undergraduate degree in Nutrition Pre-Med at Cornell University. Lee received her first Master’s Degree from Shippensburg University. Her second Master’s Degree, as well as Doctorate, were both from Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine.

She uses a Cognitive-Behavioral approach to guide her work with clients across the lifespan. She strongly believes research has shown that changing your thoughts does change your life. Her primary focus with clients is to reduce symptoms by assisting clients to achieve skills they can utilize in their professional, academic, and personal lives.

Burick Center Staff MemberHeather Motter

LMT, Massage Therapist and Back Desk Coordinator

Heather Motter joined the Burick Center team in 2018. A graduate of YTI Career Institute, Heather prides herself on using her highly developed skills to maintain the balance between mind and body. As a licensed massage therapist, she specializes in Medical Massage, Lymphatic Drainage, Trigger Point Therapy, and Oncology Massage.

Heather has a vast amount of experience working with a variety of patients. From a simple relaxation massage to a patient dealing with chronic pain, Heather is able to facilitate treatments uniquely designed for each patient’s individual needs.

Heather insists that massage is not just a relaxation luxury. Instead, her philosophy is that massage helps lead to a healthier, happier lifestyle. She encourages everyone to take the time to meet with her to develop a care plan to enhance their overall wellness.

Heather is a resident of Carlisle, where she resides with her fiancé, two sons, and four dogs. When she’s not at work, she can be found outside working on her back yard oasis, or volunteering at Speranza Animal Rescue.

Burick Center Staff MemberFelicia Miller

Nutritionist

Felicia Miller is a Registered Dietitian and Licensed Dietitian Nutritionist who provides nutritional counseling and education to patients of the Burick Center for Health & Wellness.

She takes the science of nutrition with her extensive knowledge of food and coaching skills to create an easy-to-follow actionable plan for her clients to follow.

Recognizing that there are multiple components to creating a successful wellness plan, she looks at the whole person – their concerns, lifestyle, personality, family, and career. Listening to her patients allows for Felicia to find the root cause of their issue and not simply the symptoms.

“Being healthy goes beyond diet, food is just one of the pillars of a happy, healthy person.” Felicia goes beyond the traditional diet education- she coaches and supports her patients as they learn how to make changes in their day-to-day life.

“I’m passionate about whole foods and healthy living I strive to inspire you to make positive food and lifestyle changes – at any age.”

Burick Center Staff MemberAshley Weibley

Registered Nurse

Ashley is a nurse at Burick Center for Health & Wellness. Her nursing philosophy is one of holistic care. She is a patient advocate committed to clear communication, education and applying critical thinking and decision-making skills to help patients achieve better outcomes. She enjoys providing the highest quality nursing care in a respectful, healing environment. She has a personal commitment to life-long learning through formal education and hands-on experience. She appreciates that compassion along with innovative care is what the Burick Center for Health & Wellness is all about.

Ashley has an Associate’s Degree from Harrisburg Area Community College and a Bachelors Degree from Penn State University.

She is married and has twin boys, She enjoys spending time with her friends, family and pets. She has owned and shown Quarter Horses all of her life and continues to compete in her spare time.