April 21, 2020

Resilience — what is it and how to boost it — has become a recent focus of numerous medical talk shows, blogs, books and electronic apps. Surveys to calculate one’s resilience quotient have become popular. Of course, facing the morbidity, mortality, social isolation and economic uncertainty that characterizes the COVID-19 pandemic, we crave concrete reassurance that we and our loved ones are going to be okay. We will weather this storm. We will bounce back, as one of my colleagues texted me earlier today, “Bigger, badder, stronger.”

Indeed, the majority of us will demonstrate resilience. We will return to our workplaces, schools, houses of worship, favorite restaurants, and mountain trails with no appreciable adverse health effects from the pandemic.

However, this is not the case for roughly one million Coloradans who will suffer from mental health concerns this year alone. Add the adverse psychological and biological effects of chronic, pervasive and persistent stress to the baseline prevalence of any mental disorder (19%) or serious mental illness (5%) and we should expect — and prepare for — a surge in suicides, depression, post-traumatic stress disorders, anxiety disorders and problems with alcohol and drug use.

MENTAL ILLNESS: THE SECOND SURGE?

While we have had other infectious disease scares and disasters in the U.S., we have not experienced a pandemic of this scope for more than a century. This type of disaster is unprecedented in our current society. We are psychologically inexperienced.

However, it is time that we go beyond focusing on emotional supports and discussing resilience, coping strategies, sleep hygiene or exercise routines. While these are all admittedly important to one’s well-being, we must launch a frank dialogue about psychiatric disorders as the “second surge” of this pandemic.

Over the next several weeks, we will begin an open and honest discussion of what we can expect, from a psychiatric point of view, over the coming months. We will publish conversations with experts in the assessment and treatment of depression, anxiety, PTSD and other stress reactions, as well as problems with substance use and abuse. These are exceptionally common medical problems in our society and, like COVID-19, are not exclusive to any particular socioeconomic class, race, ethnic or age group, sex or gender.

Our goal is to promote recognition that mental illness can strike any of us during and after this pandemic. It is important to recognize the signs and symptoms in ourselves and others. Mental health care is available through multiple avenues such as one’s primary care provider, the Department of Psychiatry and the Johnson Depression Center. There is no shame in reaching out for help. Suffering from depression or PTSD does not mean that one is not resilient. Resilience is complex and multifaceted. Appropriate and timely treatment can aid a person’s innate resilience and return him or her to health.

We hope you will take a few minutes to read and discuss these articles. The more frequently we speak the words “depression, PTSD, panic, suicide” the less stigmatized they become. I am optimistic that one day we will feel as comfortable seeking treatment for psychiatric and substance use concerns as we are for any other common medical condition. The majority of psychiatric disorders are episodic and highly responsive to treatment. Let’s all do what we can to prevent this second surge from becoming the chronic medical condition that will be the legacy of the COVID-19 pandemic.

C. Neill Epperson, M.D.
Robert Freedman Endowed Professor and Chair 
Department of Psychiatry 

  • Motherhood and Mental Health During COVID-19

    May 26, 2020
    Late last year, a collaboration of organizations focused on maternal health made the declaration that 2020 would be the “Year of the Mother.” While this announcement was already timely in many ways, it is unlikely that anyone anticipated what was to come in 2020, and how a global pandemic would impact pregnant and postpartum women.
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  • Suicide Risk and the Global Pandemic

    May 19, 2020
    The COVID-19 pandemic is an unusual kind of natural disaster, but like other natural disasters, we are anticipating a high number of casualties. Unlike earthquakes and floods, these casualties will accumulate more slowly and, as a result, will be less visible. Building codes, evacuation plans and other disaster preparedness efforts have limited loss of life in recent natural disasters in the United States, but infectious diseases are more complex. Epidemics are not simple events in one geographic area with immediate damage and subsequent relief efforts mounted from other areas. Global travel and supply chains have spread the effects in ways that reduce the ability of other neighboring regions to provide disaster relief. The novelty of COVID-19 prevents the government and others from responding with as much confidence.
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  • Mind the Drink

    May 12, 2020
    The COVID-19 pandemic has brought new stressors into everyone’s lives. It can be tempting to pour a glass of wine or grab a beer to help cope. However, during this public health crisis, what are the ramifications in regards to alcohol use and alcoholism?
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  • Unstructured, Uncertain, Uneasy - Students During COVID-19

    May 4, 2020
    I talk (over video chat) to many students in the healthcare professions through my position at Student and Resident Mental Health at the CU Anschutz Medical Campus. Since the COVID-19 pandemic and its requirement for social distancing began in mid-March, a common theme in our conversations has appeared. These once ambitious, hardworking, stoic doers are surprised they can’t engage themselves in activities, despite having all this free time on their hands.
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  • How COVID-19 is a Unique Threat to Mental Health

    Apr 28, 2020
    Steven Berkowitz, MD addresses how pandemics are different from other disasters, how COVID-19 is different from previous pandemics, and what you can do today to cope with this inordinate stress.
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Contact Us

Department of Psychiatry
Anschutz Medical Campus
13001 E 17th Place
Fitzsimons Building
2nd floor, Suite C2000
Aurora, CO  80045
Phone: (303)724-4940
Fax: (303)724-4956