Covid’s Evil Twin: The Echo Pandemic

Over the last few days, while chatting with two mental health care professionals, one here in Canada, and one in the U.S., both have alluded to what is becoming known as the echo pandemic. The echo pandemic refers to various peripheral resulting crises, including the mental health crisis, that we are beginning to have, and will continue to have once the virus is under control.

As far as mental health goes, there are (at least) two things at play:

First, the incredible upheaval and disruption of Covid-19 has brought stress to even the steadiest among us. It’s rocking our ‘normal’ status quo and cracking apart our certainty, autonomy, social connectedness, and possibly even our ‘identity’ which includes the things that make us feel comfortable and safe.

The pandemic is unmasking existing issues that, previously, we didn’t want to face. Domestic violence, mental health and disease (including depression, anxiety, isolation and loneliness, addiction), income and housing inequality, shelter and food insecurity.

These things were always there but we didn’t have to look at them so blatantly.

Now we do. Those of us who aren’t facing these heartbreaking life challenges may be experiencing some sense of shame, guilt, responsibility, or even helplessness, as we sit in relative ‘comfort’.  The duality of shame exists: “I lost my job” (therefore, I feel shame). “I still have a job” (therefore, I feel shame). Or parents/teachers who are both now doing both – parents as teachers, teachers as parents – all struggling to balance everything, all at once.

We are all human. We are all connected. This is tough.

Second, the post-traumatic stress that our frontline health care workers may experience as a result of this crisis is real. Many have been working around the clock to help and save patients who are presenting with myriad symptoms and following what can seem like random disease patterns. Some patients make it. Some die. The physical, mental and emotional toll is tremendous. And, additionally, they are dealing with all the other human stuff (see above paragraphs).

And then, factor in the other essential work like waste management, grocery stores, delivery people, cleaners, transportation, public health officials and politicians (yes, they are humans too).

Both aforementioned clinical psychologists have been proactively contacted by our respective governments asking all mental health professionals to prepare to provide support for the mental health echo pandemic.

What about the rest of us? If we’re not mental health care professionals, what can we do? How can we prepare for this echo pandemic before it spreads?

First, take care of yourself.

Practice mindfulness. Be present. Cultivate empathy. Practice gratitude and compassion – for yourself and others. Learn equanimity.

Second, if you don’t know how to do these things, that’s OK, now is the time to begin to learn. Baby steps. These skills are critical, now and into the future.

And just because you learn these skills, and practice these skills, doesn’t mean you won’t feel the negative stress and pressures anymore, or you won’t have bad days.

It just means you can weather the storm(s) in a more healthful and balanced way, and support others to do the same.

If you are a leader in a business environment, these leadership behaviours are need-to-do. This pandemic (and its echo) is going to affect each of your people in some way, shape, or form. Be ready.

One upside of this “virtual” world is that there are tremendous opportunities to share/receive information, knowledge, and expertise.  If you don’t know where to start, reach out for the help, support, and guidance that’s available. It is all there for the taking.

Here are some links I have found useful and shared with my team:

https://www.tenpercent.com/

https://www.camh.ca/en/health-info/mental-health-and-covid-19

https://www.helpguide.org/articles/anxiety/coronavirus-anxiety.htm

https://www.apa.org/news/apa/2020/03/covid-19-leadership

Be well. We are in this together.

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