Clinicians everywhere have long realized the importance and fragility of mental health, but the pandemic brought mental and behavioral health into greater focus. The rapid and unexpected onset of Covid-19, and the speed with which it was determined to be a pandemic, led to anxiety among all ages. Add to it the unheard-of cancellation of sporting events in America and the hoarding of basic household supplies as well as medical supplies, and the anxiety became fear. People whose loved ones were in hospitals or nursing homes were unable to visit – a critical situation both for those who were confined and for those desperate to see them. And for health care workers, bearing witness to the situation was heartbreaking.

If you or a family member are experiencing anxiety or sadness after a full year of the pandemic and the restrictions it has necessitated, I want you to know you are not alone. Not surprisingly, data show that people of all ages have sought help for mental and emotional conditions during the last year, and at rates not previously seen before the pandemic. From Harvard’s school of public health to the US Centers for Disease Control to the World Health Organization, we are warned that two of every five Americans, primarily children and young adults, are facing anxiety and depression – and the effects can be long-lasting. Fortunately, there are many experts in our area, both at Lifespan and throughout the state, who can help and who have capacity for additional patients.

Our experts suggest that young adults are disproportionately affected; about 60 percent of people ages 18 to 26 have either anxiety or depression, and a stunning 25 percent have thoughts of self-harm. At a time in their lives when they are forming their identities, they are enveloped by grief for what they have lost. Instead of looking forward to milestones and economic opportunities, they are often derailed by canceled internships, loneliness, and isolation. 

How do we know when a teen or young adult is struggling? Parents, siblings, or friends might notice oversleeping, lack of interest, weight gain or loss, or difficulty with schoolwork and other responsibilities. At some point, there must be recognition that it is time for professional help.

Telemedicine is a relatively new technological innovation that fills an enormous behavioral health need. Extended isolation, anxiety, and uncertainty converge to create distress among even the most positive young people. Patients and families find telemedicine convenient and useful, with the advantages of saving time, saving cost, and empowering patients and families who have never considered seeking help before and find the thought a little frightening. 

We are seeing an increase in alcohol use disorder, particularly in functional people as they try to cope with stress and anxiety during the pandemic. Treatment is available, both in person and through telemedicine. We advise people not to wait until there are consequences but to seek help while they feel they have some control. Many people are not aware that there are effective medications for alcohol use disorder, and Lifespan has outpatient appointments and partial hospitalization programs available. Lifespan also offers outpatient help for people who have coexisting substance use and alcohol use disorders. 

If you are concerned about a family member or friend, please be aware that physical activity is important, as is establishing a routine for eating, sleeping, working, and socializing.

For more information, please contact the Lifespan Behavioral Health and Psychiatry access center at 401-606-0606. The access center can refer you to specific Lifespan programs, including Young Adult Outpatient Psychiatry. Lifespan clinicians stand ready to help you and your family manage the emotional effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. As we have all demonstrated in the past year, we can endure together.

More about Lifespan outpatient psychiatry and behavioral health at Lifespan

Timothy J. Babineau, MD

Timothy J. Babineau, MD

Prior to his appointment as Lifespan’s president and chief executive officer, Timothy Babineau, MD served as president and chief executive officer of Rhode Island Hospital and The Miriam Hospital. Before coming to Rhode Island in 2008, he was the senior vice president and chief medical officer for the University of Maryland Medical Center and School of Medicine in Baltimore, MD. Before the 2005 appointment at the University of Maryland, Dr. Babineau held numerous administrative positions, including vice chairman of the division of surgery, surgical residency program director and director of the center for minimally invasive surgery at Boston Medical Center and surgeon-in-chief and medical director for the Boston Medical Center Surgical Associates at Quincy Medical Center. He has been a trustee for the University of Massachusetts and a member of its Audit and Finance Committee.