Provo therapists say mental health concerns are high amid COVID-19

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Most therapists are meeting virtually with their patients to prevent spreading COVID-19. (Hannah Miner)

Utah County therapists are adjusting to meeting with their patients virtually and are continuing to see an increase of mental health concerns related to COVID-19. 

A poll conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation in mid-July reported that 53% of U.S. adults said their mental health had been negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Authors in another study published in the medical journal JAMA in October wrote that mounting evidence shows that there are rising rates of mental health and substance use disorders linked to the pandemic. The authors also said there will likely be a second mental health wave, which will bring with it increased deaths from suicide and drug overdoses. 

Psychologist and BYU assistant clinical professor Klint Hobbs said people are coming to him with the same mental health concerns as they were before COVID-19 hit, but the pandemic adds a new level of stress.

“With regards to the uncertainty in the economy and politically these days, that has implications for internships and jobs, so we’ve seen some anxiety connected with that. And people are usually anxious about that stuff, but the level of uncertainty with the global pandemic is just layered on top of that,” Hobbs said.

Psychologist Randy Hyde at the Preferred Family Clinic in Provo said the biggest problem he is seeing among his patients is loneliness and the psychological challenges of missing out on important events, like graduations or funerals. He said teenagers and young adults specifically are being hit the hardest by loneliness.

“That’s a very social time of life,” Hyde said. “For some of these kids, I’m the only social interaction they have really have. And I’ve become more of a friend than a therapist for some of my young adults.” 

Hyde said hopelessness used to be the biggest predictor of suicide, but now he thinks that it is loneliness. 

“I would say now, in the last couple of years even, even before COVID-19, loneliness is the biggest predictor (of suicide). And loneliness was just escalated with the pandemic,” Hyde said.

For those who are experiencing additional stress or loneliness, Hobbs said there unfortunately isn’t a “silver bullet” to make those feelings go away. But he said acknowledging that this is a hard situation and that everyone is working together can be helpful. He also recommended visiting BYU’s Counseling and Psychological Services resource page for coping with COVID-19 stress and uncertainty. 

Hyde recommended getting creative with ways to connect with people, like virtually connecting through FaceTime or finding service projects.

“A lot of people just don’t do anything and they get deeper and deeper into depression,” he said. “Rather than closing up and withdrawing, do what you can.”

Both psychologists said while meeting with people virtually was more difficult at the beginning of the pandemic and some patients were hesitant to use telehealth, it has gotten easier over time. 

“We’ve got 15 therapists in our clinic, and a lot of patients just won’t come in because they don’t feel it is as intimate or as personal. But with those people who do (meet with us virtually), they become acclimated pretty quick. So it’s not quite as good as in person, but it’s almost as good,” Hyde said. 

Hyde said over 90% of human communication is nonverbal, so it can be hard to read the nuances of someone’s body language when you are only seeing them part of them through a screen.

Hobbs said BYU Counseling and Psychological Services explored other ways to meet with patients, like having them meet in person while wearing a mask. But he said it is hard to read another person when you can’t see their face and sometimes people cry during a session, and so if they took off their mask and blew their nose that could possibly spread COVID-19.

“Zoom isn’t as good as in person, but I do think it’s a lot better than any of the other options,” he said. 

If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, call the suicide prevention hotline at 1-800-273-TALK.

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