September 18, 2020 - Podcast

Episode 34—Coping with COVID-19

It’s no secret the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted everyone’s mental health to some degree. Social distancing and worry about staying healthy is taking a toll, and some are now feeling what’s being called pandemic fatigue. IUPUI School of Science psychology professor Kyle Minor, and his team of researchers, are working to find out how much this pandemic is not only impacting the mental health of healthy adults, but also those who struggle with serious mental illness. Minor says the ability to connect in-person with loved ones, friends, classmates, professors and even coworkers has drastically changed, and most are relying on technology to make a connection. For those with a serious mental illness, the effects can be amplified, he says. Minor and his team are working with those who have participated in their past studies; this includes both healthy adults and those with serious mental illness. They will look at social function before the pandemic and after it ends. This will allow the researchers to compare social functioning before the pandemic and any changes once it ends. Minor says he expects to see declines in both groups, with steeper drops in people with serious mental illness. Researchers hope their work could eventually help government leaders and the general public in dealing with a health crisis that touches everyone.

The toll the pandemic is having on people has been unprecedented and it is not expected to end anytime soon, according to Aaron Carroll, a professor of pediatrics at Indiana University School of Medicine. Carroll says COVID-19 is likely to be hanging over our lives well into 2021 and we need to accept this reality. But Carroll says many Americans are resistant to this possibility. They’re hoping to restart postponed sports seasons, attend schools more easily, enjoy rescheduled vacations and participate in delayed parties and gatherings, he says. While it is completely understandable that many are tiring of restrictions due to Covid-19, we need to harden our resolve, instead of weakening it, he says. Carroll pointed out that many people are awaiting the vaccine to serve as the miracle that will put things back to “normal.” Carroll says while It seems likely that a vaccine will be approved this fall and that it will be “effective,” it’s very unlikely that this vaccine will be a game changer. All immunizations are not the same and it is not yet how long whatever immunity it provides will last or whether there will be populations that derive more or less benefit, he says. Because of all these unknowns, Carroll says we will need to continue to be exceedingly careful even as we immunize. Until we see convincing evidence that a vaccine has a large population-level effect, we will still need to mask and distance and restrain ourselves. The approval of a vaccine may be the beginning of a real coronavirus response; it certainly won’t be the end, Carroll says. It is much more likely that life in 2021, especially in the first half of the year, will need to look much like life does now. Carroll says we still need to figure out how to live in this new world, now, and that means embracing, finally, all the strategies for fighting the virus that many of us have resisted. This is a marathon, not a sprint, he says. Both, though, require running.