At The Mental Health Collective, we seem to be seeing an upswing in complex clinical presentations, with somatic issues accompanying them. The million dollar question is, WHY?
It is near impossible to say with 100% certainty what the causal factors are. Having said that, many sources of reliable research data are showing that not only in the United States but across the globe, rates of diagnosable mental illnesses have increased substantially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some reports are estimating that the rates of such diagnoses have doubled in the United States in the past twelve months. It is commonly understood that social distancing has been effective in reducing the transmission of COVID-19, and concurrently been a mental health disaster.
As for somatic issues, it has been well established that there are significant cross-cultural differences in the “permissible” ways in which mental health challenges manifest. For example, in some cultures, it is far more acceptable to report a stomach ache than it is to disclose depression. The same is true in some family systems in this culture. Clients at The Mental Health Collective have often reported growing up in families that “didn’t do emotions.” Yet human beings are born with a capacity, which grows as infants develop, to experience and express a wide range of emotions. The cost of growing up in an environment in which “stuffing” emotions, rather than having permission to express all emotions, can be profound. In some cases this can lead to somatic manifestations of emotions like chronic migraines, gastrointestinal issues, seizure, fainting, etc., and to maladaptive strategies to attempt to regulate emotions such as eating disorders, addictions and compulsions, self-harm and suicide attempts, to name but a few.
In this current pandemic climate and for the residual years to follow, mental health professionals will be challenged to help clients make sense of themselves, given individual life experiences. As clinicians focus on supporting the connection of mind and body, life beyond the diagnosis will begin to heal.
Written by: Dr. Anna McCarthy | Co-Founder + Clinical Director of The Mental Health Collective
If you find yourself or a loved one experiencing persistent symptoms of fear, depression, or anxiety, it may be helpful to seek professional mental health support. The Mental Health Collective in Orange County, California, is here to help.