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The impact isolation can have on mental health during the outbreak

As society adjusts to the new realities of living amid a global pandemic and the isolation that is beginning to come along with it, many are overrun with the fears and anxieties of what to do next. Others already were facing mental health issues that may now be exacerbated by the coronavirus outbreak. Maggie Mulqueen, a psychologist in Brookline, Mass., joins Hari Sreenivasan to discuss

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    As we just heard in our previous segment, there is a distinction between social distancing and social isolation. But it's not only our seniors who were impacted. And as this pandemic continues, the mental health toll will grow. I recently spoke via Zoom with Dr. Maggie Mulqueen, Queen, a psychologist who joined me from Wellesley, Massachusetts.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Dr. Mulqueen, give me some examples of how COVID is affecting the mental health of the people who come to see?

  • Dr. Mulqueen:

    In a plethora of ways. So I think the most important distinction that we need to make is the difference between social distancing and social isolation. And I don't think that distinction is being made clearly enough to people. You know, we need to respect social distancing and hand-washing as our best means right now to save ourselves physically. But we need to really shore people up against social isolation. And one part of that is that social isolation doesn't only mean being alone. There are people who are socially isolated, even when they're at home with others, because there may be marital problems or they, you know, may be feeling a rift within their family or their apartment mates or whomever. So finding ways to help people right now to reach out, to make interconnectivity a strength, I think is essential to increasing people's resiliency to get through this from a mental health perspective.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Doctor, our health experts have been telling us to look out for the elderly nearby, people who can't get to the store perhaps were already immunocompromised. In the mental health landscape, who should we be looking out for?

  • Dr. Mulqueen:

    Wonderful question. I think all of those people and more, no one will be untouched by this. You know, I think, just like you think about the layers of who was affected by 9/11 from the people who lost their lives to the first responders, to the family members, to the people who lived in the neighborhoods. You know, to the whole country. And I think similarly in COVID-19, we are going to find people who are going to know this, unfortunately, at the most close and inner trauma, to all of us being traumatized by it. So my hope is that if everyone can find a purpose right now, because we know that purpose is what increases our self-esteem even in good times. If people can find a purpose, one of the best purposes we can find is to find a way to connect, even if it's with just one person. And so I would say, you know, I wouldn't actually say we should identify more this person over that person. It's who do you know in your circle that you can make some form of outreach to?

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    What are some of the things that concern you that will no longer be in the public eye? I mean, if people are stuck at home, they're not going to their jobs are not going to school. What are some of the things that happened inside the home that we won't have insight to?

  • Dr. Mulqueen:

    So, first of all, human touch. For those of us who are not living with others, the absence of human touch we know is detrimental. I mean, it's it's why little babies who weren't touched, died. So I think anyone who is experiencing an absence of human touch is someone I'm very concerned about. I also think that without the presence of schools under these financial financially very difficult times, I'm very concerned in an uptick in child abuse and domestic violence. One of the things that mitigates against child abuse is that children are seen at schools. But by not seeing them in school, the belt marks, the black eyes are going to go undetected. The domestic violence is going to go undetected. So I actually am encouraging people if there are connected people they are concerned about that. You almost insist to, if you have the capability, of course, to do a visual interaction. We want to, you know, not just do telephone. We want to see are there dishes piling up in the sink? Are there beds unmade? Has the person not showered in days? Are there bruises that are unexplained? So I actually think for some people, I would push towards saying, I want to see you. I want to, I want to see what your home life looks like right now. Which is, I have to say, it was extraordinary for me this week because as someone who never wanted to have a practice in my own home, because I like the separation between work and home, seeing my patients homes, I was invited into their homes, which I had never seen before. And conversely, they were invited into my home. It was a very different way to experience a therapy relationship.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Finally, Doctor, this crisis has really exposed many of the shortcomings of the physical health care infrastructure. What are the things that you're most concerned about, about the mental infrastructure, the mental health infrastructure that we have in this country?

  • Dr. Mulqueen:

    So mental health has always been the stepchild of the physical health system. Behavioral health is always short-shrifted it. It gets the least reimbursement from insurance. It's hard to access providers. There's much greater stigma. People often talk about it if their child had cancer, people would bring meals. But because they're just schizophrenic, people stay away. So there are so many factors already in our system, you know. And then if you happen to have an acting out adolescent boy, the likelihood that you're going to find a provider who can take that risk on, to treat that child, is much lower. So access to mental health, the reimbursement for mental health, the resources for mental health, community, mental health centers, et cetera, have always been short shrift. And now it is greater than ever before. You know, ironically, I think we are waiting for the "P" in PTSD. We want this to be post-traumatic stress disorder, but we don't know when that date was going to happen. But when it does, there, you know, we may have flattened the curve on the physical virus. But the implications of this in terms of mental health, I see going on for years to come.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Dr. Maggie Mulqueen, thanks so much for joining us.

  • Dr. Mulqueen:

    Thank you.

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