Prescriptions for anti-anxiety medications increased a full 34 percent in one month between February and March this year according to an Express Scripts report.
When Dr. Jessica Gold answered her phone for our scheduled call, she was slightly flustered and apologetic. Her malfunctioning Wifi, which had shut off just hours before we spoke. What may have been a trivial obstacle in another day was now a professional emergency for the psychiatrist specializing in treating college students in St. Louis.
Dr. Gold received her M.D. from the Yale School of Medicine and served as chief resident of Adult Psychiatry at Stanford University. With extensive and prestigious grant funding from the American Psychiatric Association and American Academy of Neurology, among others, Dr. Gold might belie a bland bedside manner. But she proves hyper-personable. With each passing moment of our conversation, it becomes clear that she stays just as attuned to the everyday life of her patients as to the contemporary sphere of public health and pharmacology.
Yet she is somewhat noncommittal when asked to predict pandemic impacts on mental health, stating, “it’s hard to say.”
Many of Gold’s patients, on hiatus from live classes in St. Louis, returned to their parent’s homes in different states. On top of the service delivery for psychiatrists of online platforms and therefore WiFi dependence, many telehealth practitioners including psychiatrists must be hypervigilant about licensing laws that vary by state. While many states have adjusted in accordance with migrating parties in light of COVID, this may present another barrier to care.
Gold explained that this pandemic lacks necessary figures to help model a course of action for healthcare professionals, including those in mental health. “We have minimal data from SARS and minimal data from equine flu. But not nearly enough to make projections for what’s coming down the pipe as [COVID’s] quarantine continues.”
“Generally speaking, people are anxious,” she said. Uncertainty breeds anxiety.”
She added, “Anxiety evolved as a way to predict threat in animals.” But people with anxiety disorders experience threat in overdrive, often without external stimuli that indicate real danger. Uncertainty implies the inability to predict and prepare for threats and often exacerbates the anxiety.