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Therapist: Widespread unemployment will trigger mental health crisis

Catholic Charities counselor suggests ways to cope with pandemic stressors, uncertainty

MIAMI | As she helps a team of mental health counselors adapt to video-based telehealth consultations amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the clinical director for Catholic Charities’ counseling services worries about the region’s growing unemployment.

“The ones who are really going through a lot right now are the ones who lost their jobs,” said Claudia Gomez-Cardona, head of behavioral health services for Miami’s Catholic Charities.

Brochure put out by Catholic Charities' Behavioral Services team suggests ways to cope with the fear and uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic. See the box below for the link to download the whole brochure.


Brochure put out by Catholic Charities' Behavioral Services team suggests ways to cope with the fear and uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic. See the box below for the link to download the whole brochure.

The wave of unemployment resulting from the pandemic and its social distancing protocols is a particularly devastating condition for so many people to be experiencing at one time, according to Gomez-Cardona. 

An Express Scripts study showed a 21% increase in the number of prescriptions for antidepressant, anti-anxiety and anti-insomnia medications between February 16 and March 15, 2020.

“Unemployment hits you in all areas: It hits you in your security, in terms of being able to provide for your family. It hits people who have accomplished a certain status in their jobs and careers and may lose that. And there is a sense now of not knowing what is next, which triggers all kinds of fears and insecurities that are normal for any of us,” Gomez-Cardona said. 

As the coronavirus pandemic forced non-essential businesses to close, the unemployment rate in Florida nearly doubled in one month, moving from 2.8% in February to 4.3% in March. Meanwhile, Florida’s Department of Economic Opportunity was under the spotlight initially for a glitch-filled process that provided unemployment relief checks to only 40,000 people out of 650,000 claims. As of May 13, the department reported it had processed 1.1 million claims, or 80% of those submitted.

“Right now people may be comfortable with what is happening out there, but I feel in a few weeks it may hit us differently with people financially being affected or more people losing jobs or whatever it may be that triggers (stress),” said Gomez-Cardona.

She has retooled a Catholic Charities brochure with lists of self-care and stress management strategies as well as tips for working from home. 

With so many people working from home or out of work, surviving the pandemic requires a personal plan for self-care and a healthy lifestyle to offset stress, boredom and fear of the unknown, she said. 

Gomez-Cardona recommends those suddenly working from home to take time to set up an appropriate, functional home office and to maintain good work and personal habits as well as a daily personal reward system at a time when social gatherings are off limits.

“It is important to focus on whatever positives are happening right now even in the middle of every crazy thing that could possibly happen in your life,” Gomez-Cardona said. “Think of it as an exercise to train your mind and soul to look for positives.”

“Do not isolate completely — just because we are supposed to keep social distancing to stay safe doesn’t mean we shouldn’t call people,” she added. “Reconnect with an old friend, talk to your parents more or your best friend, or your cousin. Make a point every day to connect to someone you have been missing. That interaction helps, and you hear how other people are maybe going through similar things and you don’t feel so alone.”

Gomez-Cardona’s strongest recommendation is for daily exercise at the start and end of each day as a stress management tool. “We all know that at some level, but we sometimes forget to implement it,” she said, adding that the pandemic is particularly stress-inducing.

“This is really out of our hands and none of us know what is going to happen next which is scary. But it also gives us a sense that we are not alone because it doesn’t matter whether you are rich or lost your job — all of us are in the same boat and don’t know what is going to happen next. We are not alone.”


Click here to download the Safe Care brochure.

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Comments from readers

Dolores Hanley McDiarmid - 05/27/2020 06:45 PM
Thank you for the comprehensive Self-Care ideas. I will be sure to share these with family and friends.
Gustavo - 05/16/2020 11:28 PM
Only Our Lord can save us from despair. Why have we not heard from Bishop Wenski about Mass openings? People are in need! It needs to happen this week.
Aida - 05/16/2020 09:44 AM
Thanks for the Pastoral Bulletin. When are we going to be able to attend Mass? The government is not mentioning churches which are essential for our essential for our well-being.

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