ItHome Hypertension Coronavirus isolation can have ‘profound’ impact on mental health, chronic disease, doctors say | Coronavirus

Coronavirus isolation can have ‘profound’ impact on mental health, chronic disease, doctors say | Coronavirus

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Coronavirus isolation can have 'profound' impact on mental health, chronic disease, doctors say | Coronavirus

After months of isolation, job loss and life changes, general physicians are starting to see the physical effects of the coronavirus pandemic in their patients.

Doctors in south Louisiana have said there’s been an increase in weight gain, anxiety and depression, alcohol use, and in some cases changes in sex drive as the prolonged stresses of the virus impact even those who have not been diagnosed with coronavirus. Primary care doctors are often the first line of defense in diagnosing and treating mental health problems. 

Dr. Lauren Davis, an assistant professor of clinical medicine at LSU Health New Orleans School of Medicine, said patients who have never before reported mental health concerns have experienced anxiety about their current situation and, in turn, many have an increase in blood sugar and blood pressure, weight gain resulting from a disruption in routine, or exacerbation of chronic conditions.

“The mental health impact of the pandemic has been profound,” said Davis. “Patients who have not had any anxiety disorders present with new anxiety symptoms they don’t know how to explain.” 

Mental health problems are revealed when Davis asks patients about their stress levels. They say things like, ‘I can’t stop thinking about all the things taking place in the world,’ she said. “Their brains just won’t shut off.” 

The state launched a mental-health hotline in mid-March called Keeping Calm Through COVID. Residents from Orleans and Jefferson parishes have utilized it the most, making nearly 700 calls. The most common concern beyond COVID-19 virus inquiries was crisis support, according to a dashboard tracking calls. 

Gov. John Bel Edwards issued a statewide stay-at-home order March 22, and though the state has slowly loosened restrictions since then, businesses, schools and other facilities are not back to their pre-coronavirus operations. Social distancing measures and mask-wearing are still strongly suggested, and many Louisianans have been living their new normal for more than three months now.

When the first case of coronavirus was diagnosed in Louisiana on March 9, doctors had little information about a disease that would soon threa…

During that time, a lot of patients avoided doctors’ offices for minor medical issues or annual physicals, according to Dr. Chad Braden, who’s begun seeing almost as many patients as prior to the pandemic at the Ochsner Medical Complex at The Grove in Baton Rouge. He’s been seeing the same anxiety and depression as other doctors in the area.

“It’s not just because of fear of the pandemic, it’s all the changes in people’s lives, they’ve been living with them for a while now,” he said. “A lot of folks who would come in with one or two problems now have 10 concerns mostly related to how they’re living now.”

People are having difficulty sleeping, staying motivated to work out while gyms are closed and have been eating poorly for comfort or convenience, doctors said. They’re more distracted while working from home as anxiety impacts their ability to do their jobs and some have been turning to alcohol as a way to cope.

Those with chronic conditions to monitor, like diabetes, blood pressure or mental illnesses, have in some cases seen lapses in medication compliance and medical appointments despite an increase in virtual and telehealth visits.

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“Diabetes management has had less control for the same reasons (as an increase in mental health issues),” said Davis. “We know that’s a population of concern with COVID-19.”

Patients with diabetes rely on regular blood tests to check their A1C, a measure of average blood sugar over three months. Without that check-in, management of the disease starts to slip. 

Another potential physical side effect of the pandemic’s toll on mental health is sexual issues. Patients are reporting everything from erectile dysfunction to relationship and fertility problems, some doctors and counselors say.

After a well-earned break following six weeks treating coronavirus patients in the University Medical Center ICU, Dr. Kyle Happel, a pulmonolo…

“People are for the first time in a very long time looking at relationships through a different lens,” said New Orleans-based counselor Brian Knight, who specializes in sex therapy.

“Before we were burdened by the daily grind, mortgage payment, kids, and sex was a small part of that but with all this closeness and people participating in isolation it gives them pause and time to reflect on their relationship.”

He said in particular, couples that may have been going through a rough patch pre-pandemic are likely at a make-or-break period where isolation could bring them closer or be the final straw. He said patients with sexual performance issues as a result of the coronavirus will likely be common especially the longer the pandemic drags on.

“It’s nothing to do with the performance in the bedroom, but everything to do with the thousand things going on outside of it,” Knight said.

Tracy Carlson, another New Orleans-based therapist, said she’s been following studies done at the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University as they survey the impact of coronavirus on relationships, sex and mental health.

“We don’t know what’s going on with this virus, people are losing their jobs, they can’t go to school, can’t socialize, it’s really uprooting this way of life,” she said. “We’re used to looking at things through an individual lens but now in this situation it’s a collective lens.”

Added to that are a likely decrease in privacy with every family member at home all the time, Carlson said, stressors like the savings account dwindling while the mortgage is due, and a swath of people who’ve rarely needed to manage anxiety and depression.

Carlson suggested reaching out to a counselor to find coping mechanisms. She is doing all her sessions online, she said, as are many other providers.

The doctors and therapists universally agree that a healthy diet and exercise are among the most important elements to stay consistent with throughout the pandemic to combat the everyday stress and anxiety of life.

Dr. Devan Szczepanski, owner of a Covington family medicine practice, is launching a nutrition program for patients at the end of the month after they described problems with insomnia, anxiety and diet. 

“We want to give them options to help them work through this,” she said. 

Szczpanski said patients aren’t always making the connection between new health problems and the pandemic. She has made a point to ask patients about their mental health and destigmatize the issue by telling them issues like insomnia are increasing in patients. 

“When I tell them, ‘We’re seeing this so much,’ they say it makes them feel better,” she said. “The world is just a little bit scary right now. Sometimes just having the conversation is therapeutic.” 

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