Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Compounded stress and exhaustion from worrying about the coronavirus pandemic since the start of the year is leading to "COVID fatigue" and serious mental health issues, some medical experts say.

Why it matters: This can lead to risky behavior that can increase the spread of the coronavirus as well as raise levels of depression and anxiety that foment the abuse of alcohol or drugs.

State of play: As schools, universities and businesses reopen, there's been anecdotal evidence people are taking riskier behaviors via large gatherings and other venues.

  • "We're still very much in the throes of this and I have been arguing that we have more days ahead of us than we do behind us. So, we may feel like we are done with this pandemic, but, as the old saying goes, the pandemic is not done with us," Ashish Jha, dean of the School of Public Health at Brown University, said Wednesday at the O'Neill Institute Colloquium.
  • Jha said it's "unrealistic" to believe the pandemic will be controlled before the summer or fall of 2021.
  • Some experts say, though, the realization that this pandemic will last longer than they first expected is leading to people exhibiting "COVID fatigue."

What's happening: "COVID fatigue is a shorthand way of talking about a constellation of challenges that people are facing that are leading to just an overall sense of exhaustion," David Sbarra, a clinical psychologist and professor at the University of Arizona, tells Axios.

  • People are facing stressors that range from the constant need to change our normal behavior to mitigate the virus to the economic impact from an unemployment tsunami in a society without a strong social safety net, he says.
  • "We know that people are feeling burnt out by trying to maintain and manage work in several different roles. For instance, if you're a parent at home and you have young children, you're trying to facilitate their home schooling and their virtual learning while also trying to do your job," Sbarra says.
  • "We're more depressed, we're lonelier, and we're just exhausted by this," he adds.

The length of the pandemic is also a factor in people's coping mechanisms, says Kaye Hermanson, a clinical psychologist at UC Davis Health.

  • "When it's gone on this long, our brains have to try to find a way to accommodate that. I think a lot of people with fatigue, who kind of give up on doing what they know is recommended ... may have been dealing with some cognitive dissonance," Hermanson says.

As a result, there's been "changes in clinically significant and meaningful rates of anxiety and depression," Sbarra says. This is seen in a recent Census Bureau report and in higher mental health screenings.

  • And there's been a "profound increase" in so-called deaths of despair from alcohol and substance abuse as well as death by suicide, he points out, calling it "one of the most dire warnings signs happening right now."
  • A recent analysis estimates there could be 75,000 additional deaths from alcohol and drug misuse and suicide from the pandemic.

Some steps to take:

  • "Don't doomscroll through Twitter right before going to bed," Sbarra says. Make sure to get enough sleep and and eat healthy.
  • Practice positive thinking, go for a socially distanced walk outside, and reach out to others for support, like a pastor or a counselor, Hermanson says. She noted one silver lining is that mental health therapists have pinned down some best practices for telehealth.

Go deeper: The risk of loneliness and trauma from COVID-19.

Go deeper

Oct 24, 2020 - World

Poland's president tests positive for coronavirus

Duda. Photo: Sergii Kharchenko/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Polish President Andrzej Duda has tested positive for the coronavirus, a spokesperson announced on Saturday.

The big picture: Duda is reportedly feeling well and in isolation. His positive test comes amid a massive uptick in COVID-19 throughout the country and elsewhere across Europe.

  • Poland had previously warded off the virus with relative success, but is now facing a massive influx of cases that threatens to overwhelm its medical system.
  • The nation on Saturday tracked "13,628 new cases and 179 new deaths — a record number of deaths in one day since the start of pandemic," AP reports.
Updated Oct 25, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Trumpworld coronavirus tracker

Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

An outbreak of COVID-19 has struck the White House — including the president himself — just weeks before the 2020 election.

Why it matters: If the president can get infected, anyone can. And the scramble to figure out the scope of this outbreak is a high-profile, high-stakes microcosm of America's larger failures to contain the virus and to stand up a contact-tracing system that can respond to new cases before they have a chance to become outbreaks.

Updated 46 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Politics: Ex-FDA chief: Pence campaigning after COVID exposure puts others at risk — Mark Meadows: "We are not going to control the pandemic"
  2. Health: 13 states set single-day coronavirus case records last week — U.S. reports over 80,000 new cases for second consecutive day.
  3. World: Australian city Melbourne to exit one of world's longest lockdowns — In photos: Coronavirus restrictions grow across Europe
  4. Media: Fox News president and several hosts advised to quarantine after possible COVID-19 exposure
  5. Nonprofit: Rockefeller Foundation commits $1 billion for COVID-19 recovery