What: Arwen Podesta, local New Orleans Psychiatrist speaks on mental health during COVID-19 Pandemic
Film By: UNO Student and Filmmaker Kevin Fisher
Editor’s Note: University of New Orleans Film student Kevin Fisher sits down with Arwen Podesta of Podesta Wellness in New Orleans to discuss the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on her patients. Dr. Podesta speaks to the major changes that are occurring in everyone’s lives, and the ways and actions individuals can take to reduce the general anxieties and fears that so many people are experiencing right now, as well as offering an explanation as to why these heightened emotions are occurring in such a large portion of the population.
Speaker 1 (Arwen Podesta): It’s been busier than ever in my career as a psychiatrist, as you can imagine. Several friends have had COVID-19, but they haven’t suffered or had paralysis outcomes. In my personal life, it [Covid] has affected me a decent amount, you know, quarantining and staying home. Luckily I have a … you’re at my office right now, but I also have a home office and I have done telemedicine in the past, and so it was an easy pivot my first couple of weeks. Right after we shut down, I was able to go onto telehealth and my patients continued to see me. I didn’t miss a beat.
Some of my colleagues are still going into the hospitals. And so for me, as a psychiatrist, I don’t consult inside the hospital, so I don’t see patients. I teach the residents and sometimes medical students, but usually psychiatry residents. I also teach the addiction Fellows at Tulane and also some of the psychiatry residents up at Our Lady The Lake Baton Rouge. So we have just gone to online learning.
It’s a very challenging time, because, it’s a time when social activities are key. Getting to learn when you’re in school and getting to learn when you’re together is a really important aspect of the learning. Zoom doesn’t give you all of the things that you need for your learning, because there’s more than just the book knowledge, you know?
Being able to stay involved and connected is key, and not getting sucked into the social media, and not getting sucked into the news, not getting sucked into all of the other aspects that our computer has for you. It’s weird, because you’re on a computer for work or school, but then you want to check your social media you could go down that rabbit hole and get stuck there. You want to read the news or mess around or whatever, and really trying to limit the non-productive part of your computer time is key.
We know that in kids, kids get worse depression and worse outcomes with mental health when they’re using computers or devices for non-learning activities for more than a couple hours a week. So we really need to try and limit that sort of use of devices to a very small amount.
Some other advice is for all of the young people, all the old people, everybody, to get healthy; get your immune system up; try not to get stuck sleeping all day; make sure you exercise; take your vitamins; see your primary care doctor; get your blood work checked; you know, don’t eat too much junk food. Really try and stay healthy, because what you put in your body and how you exercise has a lot to do with immunity. If we’re worried about what coronavirus is going to do for our physical health in the long term, if we can boost our immunity, we can at least have a little bit of a leg up. It doesn’t mean we are going to be immune to it; it doesn’t mean we are going to conquer it, but we can at least have a little bit of a head start.
Then for mental health, that’s what I see is really sinking a lot right now. I think a lot of it is we’ve had eight months of fear and confusion. But I also know that we’ve had eight months of not really knowing what we’re doing with schooling, and parenting might be kinda thrown out and different right now. So, there’s a lot of confusion. Being able to stay connected and stay inspired, and then also get that physical and mental health, is so important.
Stay connected with your peers, stay inspired, try to keep doing things that you love doing. This can greatly influence your physical health, and, therefore, it will influence your mental health, which can help you stay resilient.
Anxiety is really bad right now, so I’m seeing adult ADD. Even for my patients that have been doing really well with attention disorders and have it treated — whether with medicine, with behavior or supplements, or a combination of those — now people are on the screens. They’re not able to get up and rise. They’re not able to get up and take a break and not able to have this balance that maybe they had before.
The demands, I think, are harder for the workplace, because you’re on the screen, you’re multitasking, and you don’t have a threshold to leave and go home to. You don’t have a breath when you go home. So I’m seeing adult ADD just rear its head like crazy right now. People have longer days. I’m seeing so much anxiety, so much depression, but mostly my patients are really struggling with anxiety. That can be panic attacks that can be sleepless nights. That can be PTSD coming back for those of us who remember other city traumas like [hurricane] Katrina. There are a lot of people re-experiencing the fear that comes with that. So it’s all across the board.