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How coronavirus pandemic is impacting mental health

Behavioral health doctor says pandemic 'could have very long-term effects'
Dr. Jeff Lefton, Delray Medical Center, on long-term effects of coronavirus pandemic
Posted at 11:15 AM, Oct 23, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-24 00:42:05-04

DELRAY BEACH, Fla. — The coronavirus pandemic has changed the way people interact with other people.

Eleven months ago, the term social distancing was a foreign phrase, masks were only worn by medical professionals and a handshake was expected at greetings.

Jeff Lefton, a behavioral health doctor at Delray Medical Center, said COVID-19 has changed human behavior.

"This could have very long-term effects for people, whether they've been personally impacted by COVID or not," he said.

Lefton said the scope of impacts from the pandemic on mental health are still unknown, but one thing is clear -- it has made people feel alone and scared.

"We don't know where we're going and we don't know if there's ever really going to be an end," he said.

Lefton said he has seen people become anxious or depressed after their lives were impacted by the pandemic. He compared it to someone's reaction to a natural disaster.

Dr. Jeff Lefton speaks to medical professional while wearing mask
Masks used to be worn mostly by just medical professionals, but it's become a common sight during the coronavirus pandemic. "We don't know where we're going and we don't know if there's ever really going to be an end," Dr. Jeff Lefton says.

"Like hurricanes, for instance. People think they're OK. Their house is put back together or whatever, but afterward they feel that anxiety, depression," he added.

Residents of a Delray Beach 55-and-older neighborhood said they have started to notice some of their neighbors feeling lonely.

"Loneliness is a big deal," Gary Butler, who's the chaplain at Abbey Delray South, told WPTV.

Butler said a bi-monthly meeting was started to get small groups together to talk about impacts from the coronavirus, specifically focusing on mental health.

"We're just trying to make sure we keep people connected, encouraged, uplifted," Butler said.

He said they try to remove the stigma around asking for help and encourage people to talk about any problems.

Lefton said groups like Butler's are a perfect example of what people could be doing to help support someone's mental health through the pandemic.

He also recommends staying in touch with friends or family or starting new hobbies to adapt to changes from the pandemic.

October is Mental Health Awareness Month. If you or someone you know needs help, you can find resources here.

The suicide prevention hotline is 800-273-8255.