Coronavirus: New variant aggravates mental health concerns

Just when people thought they would be able to enjoy a pre-pandemic style holiday season, along came the new highly-contagious variant, which appeared to have brought more feelings of fear and anxiety.

And after a week of holiday stress, major travel disruptions at airports and on the roads, the omicron variant is seemingly the last thing people need starting the new year.

“We are seeing in our mental health access center here, a lot more calls coming with patients with anxiety, depression, substance use concerns that really are significant and sometimes rising to the level of clinical disorder that we see a significant uptick in frequency and acuity,” said Dr. Tobias Dang, a psychiatrist with Kaiser Permanente.

Since the pandemic began in 2020, Dang said he has seen a 20% jump in demand for mental health services, which he hoped would go down over time but has not. As people face more possible quarantines, closures, and canceled plans, he stresses the importance of self-care, which involves structure and routine and not just in daily tasks.

“But also to have a social structure consistent, so, obviously it depends on whether one lives at home alone or with family but staying connected socially is as — or staying active socially is as important as staying active physically,” said Dang.

While the new variant has brought about a new wave of anxiety, Dang also encourages people to limit how much news they’re consuming.

“I think it’s important to limit screen time and news time in general. (Maybe) once a day, really utilize focus time, maybe a half-hour or such to inform self on the high-level news. I think too much detail for myself even as a physician, but too much detail for (a)layperson can be confusing and anxiety-provoking.”

While not minimizing the mental health toll the pandemic has had on the world, Dang believes people have grown more resilient.

“I also think people we have become more adaptive over time to the unknown. Because as we know, one of the additional phrases of 2021 is the only constant is change, so we can’t really rely on things being predictable anymore,” said Dang.

Dang said if you are increasingly unable to perform daily tasks and obligations, it is time to seek help. He also said there is a responsibility to watch out for our loved ones.