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A Carle BroMenn doctor says the trauma of the pandemic could be an issue for years to come

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Dr. Girishkumar Dhorajia, head of Addiction Recovery and Mental Health Services at Carle BroMenn Medical Center in Bloomington-Normal, said people are grappling with many factors, including disruptions to daily routines and an onslaught of news and information.

Demand for behavioral health services is always high. But it has skyrocketed during the pandemic, according to Dr. Girishkumar Dhorajia. And as the global health crisis wears on, a combination of stress, fear, and isolation is creating a perfect storm.

Dhorajia is head of Addiction Recovery and Mental Health Services at Carle BroMenn Medical Center in Bloomington-Normal. He said people are grappling with many factors, including disruptions to daily routines and an onslaught of news and information.

“Sometimes misinformation, sometimes even rumors,” Dhorajia said. “And that just adds into how people feel like they're losing control over their own life.”

That’s led to an increase in issues like anxiety, insomnia, and stress-related disorders, Dhorajia said. There’s also be an uptick in more serious conditions like suicidal ideation and substance use disorder. And although those trends are alarming, Dhorajia said we have yet to realize the full scope of the problem.

Dhorajia said it’s important to note that issues of behavioral health and substance use disorders tend to manifest on the “tail end” of traumatic events. Dhorajia cites 9/11 as an example, saying that in the immediate aftermath of the attack, the focus was on treating physical injuries. Issues of behavioral health or substance abuse tied to the trauma of 9/11 arose “in the years after,” Dhorajia said.

“And that is what we're seeing for pandemic, too,” he said. “We’re still not completely out of the pandemic, but the initial rise in the numbers for mental illness is probably going to continue to spike, even when the pandemic resolves.”

Dhorajia said in addition to seeking treatment when necessary, people should practice elements of self-care. Navigating the pandemic is taxing and finding the balance between stressors and coping mechanisms is critical to overall health, Dhorajia said.

“When things get complicated, get down to the basics,” Dhorajia recommended. “Try to take a step back, try to refocus, try to redefine.”

Dhorajia said a healthy routine that includes a good sleep cycle, a healthy diet, and exercise goes a long way. Meditation, yoga, and relaxation can also serve as simple coping mechanisms when stress begins to build.

It’s also important that “people take a step back and take yourself away from pandemic related talk all the time,” Dhorajia said. That includes taking breaks from news and social media.

Of course, not everyone has equal access to coping mechanisms, no matter how simple. Dhorajia acknowledges that a good night’s sleep, for example, isn’t something that’s available to everyone.

It can also be incredibly difficult to turn away from pandemic-related issues for any amount of time. That’s especially true for medical professionals who’ve experienced staffing strains throughout the pandemic. But it’s also true for teachers, frontline workers, and a litany of others.

And that’s why burnout may be yet another behavioral health crisis whose true scope will surface once the pandemic finally recedes.

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