A Mental Health Counselor Discusses the Emotional Toll of Coronavirus
María Mercedes Hope talks to People CHICA about how the pandemic is affecting mental health.
People en Español's 50 Most Beautiful issue also honors #BeautifulHeroes — people who are on the frontlines of fighting the coronavirus pandemic. One of these heroes is mental health counselor María Mercedes Hope, who talked to People CHICA about the emotional toll this global crisis is taking on health care professionals and society as a whole. "Everybody is stressed out," says the 52-year-old Cuban American therapist. "The biggest fear people are having is: 'I'm OK if I get sick with this virus, but I cannot get sick because I need to protect my family.' There is a lot of anxiety there."
Hope is providing counseling for health care professionals in various hospitals in Miami who are battling to save the lives of a growing number of coronavirus patients. She had a nurse who broke down crying after she had to say goodbye to an elderly patient who couldn't have his family by his side when he died. She also had to tell four little girls that their young mom —who had an underlying heart condition— died from coronavirus complications. "That broke my heart," says the therapist, who had to deliver the news via telemedicine. "I'm available 24/7 for any emergency I need to handle. We need to be there for each other. These are exceptional times."
"I've worked with nurses in the E.R. and I.C.U. They are going through the motions and they are very strong. My concern is what is going to happen after we find some balance, seeing more post-traumatic stress and people breaking down," she says. "Right now people are going through the punches, because the high adrenaline is there. They tell me: 'I get up, I get dressed and keep going.' Doctors are being very brave, they are talking a lot of precautions."
Living in a state of sustained tension causes fear of the unknown. Loneliness is also taking its toll, especially in older generations. "Isolation is affecting people the most. Recommendations are to try to stay with a structure, to do a routine, to take walks, do FaceTime with friends and family. I see a lot of people doing Zoom and WhatsApp video calls, and teens doing lunch groups on FaceTime," she says.
Not all the emotional effects of this quarantine have been negative. "I see a lot of humility and appreciation for the little things, I love that," Hope says. In the aftermath of coronavirus, the world as we know it won't be the same. "In the large scheme of things I think we are going to become more mindful about hugs, about shaking hands. This is going to change us forever," Hope concludes. "We will start appreciating hugs, having conversations, drinking coffee with a friend, going for family picnics. Society is changing. People are reading books now, cooking meals. It's like we stopped in time and we're going back to a new way of living."
For more #BeautifulHeroes stories, pick up the new issue of People en Español, on stands Friday. For more information on COVID-19, please visit the official website of the CDC.