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This Neuropsychiatrist Warns About "Pandemic Squared" + What To Do About It

Daniel Amen, M.D.
Clinical neuroscientist psychiatrist By Daniel Amen, M.D.
Clinical neuroscientist psychiatrist
Daniel Amen, MD, is a clinical neuroscientist psychiatrist, physician, professor and 10-time New York Times bestselling author. He is a double board-certified child and adult psychiatrist and founder of Amen Clinics, Inc.
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We are living in unprecedented times. As the wave of COVID-19 continues, we're also coping with a tsunami of mental health issues. It's all adding up to a global crisis I call "Pandemic Squared." 

What is Pandemic Squared?

What does that term mean exactly? As a clinical neuroscientist psychiatrist, I've created the phrase Pandemic Squared to refer to the fact that COVID-19 is now being multiplied by a subsequent pandemic of psychological problems, such as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and addiction.

A paper that appeared in an April issue of JAMA Internal Medicine warned of a looming psychiatric epidemic in the wake of the pandemic. According to the authors, "These consequences are of sufficient importance that immediate efforts focused on prevention and direct intervention are needed to address the impact of the outbreak on individual and population-level mental health."

Based on recent reports, their prediction is already materializing. A recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll reported that 56% of Americans say that worry or stress related to the pandemic has had a negative impact on their mental health. During the lockdown, there has been a 34% increase in prescriptions for anti-anxiety medications and a 19% increase in prescriptions for antidepressants. A 2020 study out of China involving over 700 patients with COVID-19 found that a staggering 96% showed symptoms associated with PTSD. And sadly, there has been a marked uptick in calls to suicide hotlines.

At Amen Clinics, the patients we're currently seeing for anxiety, depression, bipolar disease, PTSD, and other issues are complaining of more severe symptoms than usual. And they're expressing a greater urgency to be seen quickly.

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What can you do to avoid Pandemic Squared?

Of course, there is no quick-fix solution for mental health issues. However, in addition to shoring up your immune system to prevent COVID-19, I urge you to prioritize strengthening your mental well-being now, too.

Mental practices are personal and will look different for everyone. But one thing I advise, especially during this time, is focusing on positive thoughts to trigger a release of feel-good neurochemicals. Try bookending your day with positivity: Start your morning by saying it's going to be a great day, then at night, ask yourself what went well.

You can also prioritize practices that have a positive impact on brain health, like hydration, sleep, exercise, and nutritious eating.

I further advise looking into biological risk factors that may contribute to mental illness, such as inflammation, and work with your medical practitioner to mitigate the problem.

It's important to note, if you're experiencing prolonged feelings of depression or other symptoms of mental illness, please consider reaching out to a medical professional for help. If you or someone you love is experiencing suicidal depression, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

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