Berks County Medical Society Medical Record Winter 2021 - 14

Collateral Damage
continued from page 13

Under the Radar:

The Psychological and Emotional
Consequences of the COVID-19 Pandemic
by David A. Arena, Psy.D., J.D., MBA, M.A., M.Ed., LPC
Behavioral Science Director
Penn State Health St. Joseph Family Medicine Residency
Clinical Assistant Professor, Department of Family & Community Medicine
Penn State College of Medicine
darena@pennstatehealth.psu.edu

Nearly every day, nearly every station, channel, or website brings a constant stream
of stories about the COVID-19 pandemic. We are constantly pummeled with infection
rates, death tolls, new rules, and potential shut downs or quarantines. People have
quickly become familiar with hybrid or at-home schooling, ZOOM, masks, and social
distancing. Many have lost jobs, lost loved ones, and lost their businesses. Even when
the consequences are not so dire, people have postponed weddings and vacations, forgone
birthday and graduation parties, and learned to live without attending live sporting events,
movies, concerts, and even family holiday celebrations. We are all aware of the symptoms
of and potential medical consequences of the COVID-19 virus, but how much do we
know about the emotional and psychological consequences of living in the pandemic era?
One only has to venture onto social media or out to the local grocery store to see
or hear the arguments about the virus, the lock downs, masks, science, the vaccine, and
more. There seems to often be an inability to have a calm conversation on these topics, as
people tend to land on one end of the spectrum or the other-- or at least that is how they
are perceived by those with opposing viewpoints.
My experience here at Penn State Health St. Joseph's Family and Community
Medicine Residency Program is that the potential emotional and psychological impacts
of this pandemic are quite staggering, to both our patient population and to caregivers,
medical professionals, and the community at large. In our clinic the level of acuity in
symptoms and the frequency of reports of suicidal thoughts, plans, and attempts has
seemed to have skyrocketed. We have assisted more people in gaining access to inpatient
psychiatric services during the last three months than we have in the previous several
years. There have been several cases of individuals with suicidal ideations who are not even
current patients of the residency or wider health system, but who have dropped into our
clinics in desperation. One drop-in patient reported no prior treatment or experience with
depression or any other mental health symptoms and had attempted suicide via hanging.
Symptoms like panic attacks, anxiety, and depression can be triggered or exacerbated
by the pandemic. My fear is that there are a number of people who are too afraid or
anxious to reach out, and so are suffering from home and not availing themselves of
treatment. Most of the behavioral health system is functioning virtually, with telehealth or

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Berks County Medical Society Medical Record Winter 2021

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