MOUNT DESERT ISLAND — Having a general lack of enthusiasm aimed at keeping one’s self and others safe from infection can be a symptom of pandemic fatigue, which is a cognitive condition that is affecting Americans now in their ninth month of a global COVID-19 pandemic, explained Dr. Andres Abreu, director of Mount Desert Island Hospital’s Behavioral Health Center.
As a guest speaker at MDI hospital’s virtual town hall series held in mid-December, he went on to describe the term as a natural or expected reaction to sustained and unresolved adversity in people’s lives. “Those who experience this condition are demotivated by the longevity of a pandemic situation to follow the recommended protective behaviors emerging gradually over,” Abreu said.
According to the MDI psychiatrist, there are several components related to individual motivation that have been strongly impacted by the longevity of the pandemic.
Abreu said that the perceived threat of the virus may decrease as people become used to its existence – even if the epidemiological data show that the risk may, in fact, be increasing. Though at the same time, the perceived loss resulting from the pandemic response (lockdowns, restrictions) is likely to increase over time as people experience the long-term personal, social and potentially economic consequences of restrictions. “For some people, the balance may shift, and the perceived costs of the response may start to outweigh the perceived risks related to the virus,” he said.
Abreu also said that an urge for self-determination and freedom may grow as restrictions continue, impose inconveniences in everyday life or continuously change in ways that people feel they have little control over.
Another component illustrates how difficult circumstances can become normal when experienced over longer periods of time. People may become used to the pandemic and the threat it poses, so complacency may result.
As the pandemic continues, Abreu offered solutions for children and seniors suffering with pandemic–related mental health issues. “Try keeping in touch with your elders on a regular basis and provide photos to show you care,” he said.
Family physician Julian Kuffler, who joined Abreu during the discussion, added that maintaining close contact is important. “The more you can get kids talking, the better. If you notice kids with a short fuse, let them know they aren’t alone,” said Kuffler, who also stressed the importance of bringing children outside to help improve their mood.
Abreu ended the conversation by offering a list of mental health resources and suggesting that anyone who struggles mentally should seek professional help. “For a non-crisis situation, the Intentional Warm Line provides telephone support during challenging times. The number is (866) 771-9276,” he said. He also said that people who are experiencing a mental health crisis should call the Maine Crisis Hotline at (888) 568-1112.