Podcast | Episode 10: COVID-19 and Mental Health with Dr. Sarah Lahey and Dr. Russell AddeoClinical Expertise
Apr 5, 2020
Tracy Davis: Welcome to the Brooks Rehabilitation Podcast, my name is Tracy Davis. I am actually not joined by Michelle this week, I am actually recording from my home podcast set up. Since today is March 30 we were recording this, so we actually are still under quarantine, who knows when you might be listening to this down the road. We hope you are able to listen to this episode while things are still crazy with this COVID-19 pandemic. As of, I think Friday, the President has extended the quarantine for the United States to April 30, so we’re still in this weird state of living for a little bit longer. But this week we had on doctors Russell Addeo and Sarah Lahey, psychologists at Brooks. We wanted to have them on to just give a little bit of insight and help as to what we can do to stay sane during these crazy times with family and finances. And we also talked about the Brooks4Brooks program, which is an internal program for our employees to take advantage of to help ease some anxieties and have a professional to talk to. I’ll let them explain that.
And I really want to thank them for coming on. We had a limited amount of time to talk with them, I tried to get as many questions in there as I could. I had to record this over the phone so the quality of their end isn’t going to be as great, but I think it’s still audible so it should be fine. But on behalf of Brooks I just wanted to say a big thank you to every single one of our employees that are still continuing to work hard to take care of our patients and keep them safe, keep them secure, keep them entertained. Obviously we have an inpatient hospital where we have patients in our care. We have skilled nursing facility, assisted living facilities where we have people in our care, which means we have a lot of our employees that are still out there working and not being home with their families as much. So we thank you so much for the extra time that you’re taking and I’m sure you’re picking up extra shifts and all that.
And this extends to every single hospital in the greater Jacksonville area to all of our healthcare partners, we thank you so much for all the hard work that you’re doing. I know that there’s a lot of moving and shifting that’s having to be done, and all of the different hospitals in our area are working out to help one another and in whatever way that we can. So just a big thank you to every single healthcare worker that are really shining a light on the healthcare industry right now, and how important the work that we do is, not just at Brooks but everyone that has decided to take on a profession to help others. And that includes us like myself, who are non-clinical. We don’t touch patients, but like our whole marketing department, we’re all doing things like calling and scheduling virtual visits for family members of people in our care. And the work has not slowed down too much since there’s so much more to be picked up.
And we have a lot of clinicians who aren’t able to see patients like in our outpatient settings, we have physical therapists that are at our inpatient facility doing scanning and stuff like that to make sure everyone’s safe to come into the building. So people that are really shifting their job roles and just picking up in another place and just keeping things moving along. And all that is going to go a long way whenever we finally get through whatever this pandemic is.
So anyway, let’s get into the podcast, sorry for rambling there. I again want to thank Dr. Lahey and Dr. Addeo for taking the time out to come on and answer these questions, I think it was really helpful. Let’s get right into the podcast. Thank you guys for joining us for the special Brooks podcast, I really appreciate you taking out the time, I know you guys are really busy. And maybe if we just do a very short introduction of who you are. So Dr. Lahey, would you like to start?
Dr. Sarah Lahey: Sure. I’m Dr. Sarah Lahey, I am a neuropsychologist at Brooks Rehab and I’m also the Manager of Psychological Services. And I’ve been at Brooks for over 10 years.
Dr. Russell Addeo: Yes, hi everybody. I’m Dr. Russell Addeo, I’m a neuropsychologist and Director of Behavioral Medicine, and I’ve been here about 25 years going on 26 years now.
Tracy Davis: Again, thank you guys for being here. Let’s start off by talking about the really innovative program that Brooks is doing, and you guys specifically with the Brooks4Brooks program. So if you wouldn’t mind, Dr. Lahey, explaining what that is.
Dr. Sarah Lahey: Sure. So as psychologists we are passionate about helping others, and in this time of uncertainty and increased stress it’s more important than ever to be supporting others. And especially in our fellow coworkers, as we’re on the front lines, whether or not we’re still coming into the hospital and engaging in patient care or working indirectly through Zoom or other mechanisms. Now that we are learning how to operate we wanted to provide a service so that we can help support those in need of working on some coping strategies, having the opportunity to vent about all of these new roles that we’re taking on. Also to try to talk through some of their fears related to the pandemic or just some of the changes that are going on day-to-day that are affecting us all.
So we launched Brooks4Brooks, which is a really innovative mechanism to get our support services out to our coworkers. And we have a number of different platforms in which we’re doing this. One of them is offering individual Zoom kind of consultation support sessions directly with our psychologists here on staff. And then we are also doing bi-weekly support groups that any staff members can join by Zoom and jump on, and we’ll be practicing some different relaxation strategies and mindfulness and other coping strategies, and also just providing a forum for us all to connect in this time where were not having a lot of opportunities to do so.
Dr. Russell Addeo: And then I think what I would also add the two other elements of it too, Sarah, are that we’re also having biweekly emails we’re going to send out to provide information about strategies to manage stress, as well as this podcast. If you think about this as one way of communicating, maybe do another one in the future, to the staff about trying to find ways to help them, support them through this very stressful time of our lives.
Tracy Davis: Great. I mean it sounds like a fantastic program, especially since we’re having a lot of clinicians all over the organization, as well as other healthcare companies who are doing the same, where they’re kind of reprioritizing what they’re focusing on if they can’t see patients. So I think this is a fantastic way of you guys kind of turning inward instead of just external with patients. Because I’m sure that there’s a lot of our employees that are really going through different things mentally right now, and having an expert like you guys there to reach out to is probably really reassuring.
Dr. Russell Addeo: One of the things, Tracy, that I think about is that this is, and this is not therapy that we’re doing with staff, it’s not going to be that we’re going to develop psychotherapy, but it’s more like just looking at it from the perspective that this is, everybody’s anxious. I mean I think it’s just a normal emotion you’re going to experience because, well I mean, who here has been through a pandemic? Nobody. And so anxiety is kind of expected that it’s going to be an anxiety provoking situation. And this is really just an attempt, our attempts to just help our fellow staff members who we care about, to help them deal with it as best they can and cope if you will.
Tracy Davis: Sure. It’s so Brooks. It’s such a Brooks thing to me, of just really taking care of its employees and really using all of our resources to best help everyone that we possibly can, so I think it’s fantastic.
Dr. Sarah Lahey: We’re really excited.
Tracy Davis: How can people take advantage of it? Have you guys set up that infrastructure yet of how people can reach out and set up sessions with you?
Dr. Sarah Lahey: We have. So we have our very own email address. It is COVIDStressSupport@BrooksRehab.org. And anyone in the organization can email that, and we have people manning that email and we’ll be in touch if every they’re needed. Whether it’s heading up an individual session, or just some extra resources, or having some suggestions for other ways that we can implement our services. It’s just a great way for all staff to get in touch with us.
Tracy Davis: So it is an internal program just for our employees, correct?
Dr. Sarah Lahey: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Tracy Davis: Okay.
Dr. Sarah Lahey: It is.
Tracy Davis: I’m sure you guys will be seeing the emails coming in will be from a Brooks email address, so that’s easy to do find out.
Dr. Russell Addeo: Absolutely. And there was an email that announced it when Doug sent out his email to everybody, and then one of the items there was that. And then I think that this podcast will help announce it a little bit. And I think we’re going to, you also want to keep an eye out, staff should keep an eye out for the survey. We’re just in the midst of trying to finalize a survey, just to ask about what things are particularly stressful, and so we can get a better idea about what are the things that are the major causes of stress, and then whether or not they would take advantage of that. So that’s another way of informing them about some of the things, some of the service we’re going to provide.
Tracy Davis: Excellent. And I know we only have about 15 minutes, so let’s get through some questions here. So just starting off Dr. Lahey, what are some things that you’ve been noticing that people seem the most stressed out about during this time with this pandemic?
Dr. Sarah Lahey: I think that there’s some general buckets that the stressors would fall in. Currently one of them is just the change in roles that we all have. Not only are we now, for many of us we’re not just continuing as employees fulfilling our work duties, but for many of us with children, the schools are closed. And so now we’re juggling being full time parents and teachers, which any of you all that have attempted to sit down and work on your schoolwork with your children, my heart is with you. It’s challenging, it really makes me appreciate the teachers that we have. So whether you’re still working and being a parent, a teacher, juggling schedules with a significant other, and vying for time to be working from home or coming into the office, there’s just a lot of role changes and a lot of demands on all of us right now.
And then that’s really coupled with a sincere fear. As Dr. Addeo said, we’ve never been in a pandemic before, we’ve never experienced this. And so there’s a lot of information out there from the news, from different social media sites, and it can be really overwhelming to digest all of that and to really know where the information is coming from. And is it a trustworthy resource? And so trying to navigate and develop your own narrative that has facts about the pandemic, and keeping in sync with the best practices as far as what we’re doing day to day behaviorally to follow the guidelines that the CDC has put out or other entities that put out, it’s just a lot to manage that we’re certainly not prepared it for this on many levels. But yet as humans I think we often underestimate how resilient we can be in times like this. And even if it’s stressful I do believe that we all have the ability to get through this and to come out on the other end of it. Sometimes it can just be hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Tracy Davis: Sure. Dr. Addeo, what have you been noticing in the general anxieties?
Dr. Russell Addeo: Well the biggest thing I think is really just whether or not people fear they’re going to get the disease. Whether or not this is a communicable disease. And we’re learning more about it, but there’s that fear and the fear of family members getting it. And then there’s the lack of personal protective equipment that we have to then been defended off, if you will. And I’d say that those are to me, and one of the reasons I put several of those items on the questionnaire that we’re going to send out, the survey, is just really I do think that that’s what I’m hearing is people are just apprehensive about what do they expect and then fear of dying. I mean wondering whether or not this is going to cause their demise.
Now it’s unlikely, I mean just statistically unlikely. There are ways to control this and at least we know we’re getting a better idea that it is really, it’s your hands and touching your face. Your hands are the main mechanism by getting it. So we talk about things, Tracy, that are, as psychologist we’re trying to… The things that are within our control and the things that are not in our control. And so it’s like, you want to try to spend your energy and your time and your efforts on that first column, which is basically doing the things you can control, doing something with the things you can control, and not necessarily spending a lot of time on things you can’t. So when you’re dealing with this it’s one way to help manage that whole thing.
Tracy Davis: Sure. That’s really helpful, because it kind of takes the whole side of the bucket out of your mind so you don’t even have to worry about… You know it’s there but you’re focusing on what you do have the ability to change. So that’s great advice. Let’s do some kind of rapid fire stuff, we’ll get through some of these since we’re getting low on time. Financial, what would you guys recommend about financial stressors? I’m assuming some of what Dr. Addeo just said about focusing on what you can control, but there is a lot of financial strain right now on people depending on different situations, but what advice would you give for them?
Dr. Russell Addeo: Well, I mean I would say that there’s two levels there. One is the day-to-day finances and the concerns about having enough money to pay the bills and things like that if you’re getting laid off from work, or you have less hours, or … their internal Brooks employee probably there may be different situations people have. So I think that the way to manage that obviously is really just think about what your finances are and try to obviously know that it’s going to be limited. Fro a limited amount of time is going to be happening, you’ve got to ration whatever you do have. But I think there’s also the financial issues of the bigger finances, your retirement monies and things like that when looking at your 401k or 403(b) that people are concerned about. And my advice is really not to give financial advice, but to say that I think that people need to talk to their financial advisor or talk to someone about that knows about stocks and knows about things like that, that knows what the prudent strategy is in a situation like this, which is pretty unprecedented.
Dr. Sarah Lahey: Absolutely.
Tracy Davis: I feel like, to make a pretty easy prediction, I feel like after this whole thing is over it seems like maybe people will stop focusing so much on the consumerism that we all think about. Getting a new car every couple of years and all those kinds of things and focus more on maybe building up our emergency funds and things like that. I think there’s going to be a big shift after this pandemic has calmed down and the way that people choose to spend their money. I think it’s going to give people a whole new perspective.
Dr. Sarah Lahey: I agree. Yeah, it’s been interesting just from a social sciences perspective and thinking about what the impact of this pandemic is having on so many different levels. Definitely financially but then also just how we interact with one another too and the relationships that we have with each other, whether it’s coworkers, or colleagues, or friends, or loved ones. And then just what it means to us to have those social interactions. And I think depending on who you are, some people may find it welcoming while others may really have a hard time with having that isolation. I know I am a pretty social person and I find that’s a huge chunk of my life that is empty now and I’m looking to find ways to fulfill that, it can be hard.
Tracy Davis: It’s funny, like I grew up here in Jacksonville my entire life, and then I was very complacent with having the beach just right down the road, and I never really go that much. But now that I can’t go I want to go, because it’s an outdoor thing that I can do, I can go walk on the beach. But now they shut them down, as of we’re recording this in late March, we can’t go on the beach like a lot of other coastal towns. So it’s very interesting. Let’s talk really quick about family. Dr. Addeo, what would you give any examples for people that are, we’re having to be a lot closer to our family members and maybe we’re a little used to having that those eight hours apart? Not that we don’t still love them, but we also like to have our space and have our own time, but now we’re having to work from home and be really close to them, even kids. What kind of anxieties do you see playing around that and what advice would you give?
Dr. Russell Addeo: Okay, the first advice, don’t kill each other.
Tracy Davis: Good tip. Let me write that down.
Dr. Russell Addeo: I mean I think that there really are some real stressors that go along with it. Because I mean, you’re in a tight space, or relative to the size of your house, and that you’re not normally interacting with all the kids there at the same time. I mean I think that it’s a matter of setting boundaries, it’s a matter of setting a schedule. It’s a matter of, in terms of noise and other things like that, setting some rules regarding that. There’s also planning enjoyable activities or planning some type of family activity. So like my sister, she has her older boys home and they would make a puzzle. They have this big Elvis puzzle. And she has different things, and she’s a teacher, so she basically feel comfortable doing that. But she’s established clear boundaries about what they do and what they do with their time. They do exercise, they take activities.
But bottom line is it is a real stressor. I’m hearing about it personally and also hearing about it in the news is too that everybody, even divorce lawyers are having increased calls because people were really having stress in their marital relationships. And so I guess my best response is to establish your boundaries, try to have an explicit conversation around how you’re not going to bump into each other. How are you going to have some type of structure and some structure to the day, and then what are some enjoyable activities?
Tracy Davis: Sure. Dr. Lahey?
Dr. Sarah Lahey: I agree with that, absolutely. In hearing you talk, Dr. Addeo, it makes me think of this meme that I saw yesterday. And it said if the 33 Chilean miners can survive trapped in a small cave for 90 days, we can survive COVID quarantining. But then someone put a comment underneath it, it said that their wives weren’t with them. And I thought that was pretty funny. And it’s the truth, it’s hard. But one thing to keep in mind too is that a lot of times the stress and the disharmony, if you will, it comes from a lot of anxiety and anxiety related to change and surrounding that piece. And so allowing others to, including ourselves, to process and to share our worries and to find ways to express those emotions. Whether it’s sadness, fear, anxiety, maybe happiness because you really are an introvert and you don’t want to talk to people.
But any way to help find a way to express those. And I think for children that’s particularly challenging. I know my four and my six year old know that okay, things are really different right now. But they don’t really know how to explain how it’s different and how they feel about it. But yet behaviorally I can see the changes come out through increased tantrums or defiance. When really if you take a step back and talk about it, it’s a really confusing time for them, and it’s a really confusing time for everybody. And so the more patience that we can have as we’re approaching some of these challenges, the better off we’ll be.
Tracy Davis: I’ve only got a few more questions left. So we talked about family, financial, the Brooks4Brooks program, which is fantastic. There’s some articles going around about how, kind of answering the question a little bit of why everyone feels extra tired, even though we haven’t been doing as much. We’ve been sitting at home, mostly trying to do home workouts and go for runs and whatever we can do, but mostly we’re not as active as we had been, even just walking throughout our office buildings or doing whatever our job is. And there’s something called the trauma response, I believe is what these articles are saying. Do you guys have any insight on that?
Dr. Russell Addeo: Yeah, I can start out. I was reading, I read an article last night where it was about whether or not people are going through the stages of grief, kind of denial, the … Ross talks about. And there really are not stages that are distinct like that, but they talked about how people go to this kind of trauma response of first kind of a denial about what happened, is this really that serious? And then kind of a fear, anger kind of reaction. And then there’s kind of bargaining, and then eventually acceptance of it.
But people can have a kind of trauma or stress response, which is their body is almost driving and running. And they’re mentally and physically, even though we’re not as physically active, the stress of the worry about it can actually cause your immune system to be on hyperdrive. And you almost become very tired and fatigued as this, cortisol is the chemical that gets released when you get stressed, and that could cause you to have this kind of fatigue kind of reaction. And that’s a real phenomenon, and I’ve actually can lead you to get colds and things like that. I wouldn’t necessarily jump to say it makes you more susceptible to COVID, but it certainly lowers your immune system down when something like that happens.
Tracy Davis: Right. And then just really quickly on the parental side of things, thank you guys again for your time, I know we’re at the end of our time. School functions being canceled, graduations being canceled, senior trips, and then there’s teachers that are having to transition into teaching all on virtually. I know that they’re going to have to learn a whole new way of doing those things, but just a lot of the shifts, it’s thinking more along the line of our parents that are out there, and you guys touched on it already a little bit, but what anxieties are you seeing out there about that? And what advice would you give to parents and teachers trying to transition right now?
Dr. Sarah Lahey: Be patient with yourself and know that it takes time, and there’s no perfect way to transition because it’s never been done before. And I think that one thing that I am finding some comfort in, and I know others that I work with are as well, is that these truly are unprecedented times. And in a way it’s kind of exciting to think about that we are setting our own precedents now, and we are really charting a new path and setting some new protocols for something that we’ve never experienced, and hopefully never will have to experience again. However, I think just knowing what we know, it’s probably unlikely that nothing like this will ever happen again. And so we’re really arming ourselves with some skills to apply to the future. And so just be patient.
Dr. Russell Addeo: And when it comes to being a teacher and to changing your role of being a parent, it really is a matter of trying to deal with things as calmly and rationally as you can without letting emotion… It’s really as Sarah recommends, Dr. Lahey, that you want to recognize your emotion. Don’t deny it. Don’t try to deny that you’re having it, if it’s anxiety or whatever it is, but try to deal with things with the facts that are in front of you as best you can. And that means trying to figure out the best pathway possible. It is unprecedented, what we’re dealing with, so it’s going to have to develop the most rational method of dealing with your kids at home, and teaching them, and trying to get the school engaged in that, I mean you get engaged with the school. And then also if you’re a teacher, learn the new things you need to learn like all of us are doing right now too.
Tracy Davis: Get really good at Zoom, yeah.
Dr. Sarah Lahey: And never underestimate the power of experiential learning, which is, just go out there and do it, and hold on tight.
Dr. Russell Addeo: Well and never underestimate the power of humor too, Tracy. I mean there’s just been a mass amount of memes that are really hilarious too.
Tracy Davis: Oh gosh. One of the best things of this time, I don’t know if you guys have seen Tiger King yet on Netflix? But my wife and I watched that, I think it was the first night it came out and it was right when all the quarantining started happening and boy, they couldn’t have launched a show like that at a better time. So all the memes that have been going on like that has been one of the best things. But my unprofessional advice that I’ve been telling myself is that how many cities and people have lived their lives, cultures way before we have all of the conveniences that we have now. Not that all the things we have now in society is wrong, and human is just get used to what we have, like the school system and all that kind of stuff and such an amazing healthcare system. But people are fighters and we’ve survived much more than this in years past, so we’re going to be fine.
Dr. Russell Addeo: I’ll end it with, my sisters sent me a meme this morning and it says, related to all the conveniences we have, she said, I’m as bored as an Amish electrician.
Tracy Davis: That’s hilarious. That’s very true, I find myself getting bored. Even though I’m a big technology guy and I’ve got a million things I could play with here at my house, but I find myself just wanting to, I actually went out for a walk yesterday and I never do that.
Dr. Russell Addeo: Yeah.
Dr. Sarah Lahey: Good for you.
Tracy Davis: Yeah. Well I know we’re a little over time, so thank you guys so much for being on the podcast. And we might have to have you back on it in some point, because as of right now it sounds like we’re, through April 30, the nation of the United States is going to be on some sort of quarantine. So we might have you guys back on at another time. But thank you so much for coming on.
Dr. Sarah Lahey: Yeah, sounds good.
Dr. Russell Addeo: You’ve very welcome, Tracy.
Dr. Sarah Lahey: Thanks, Tracy. Take care.
Tracy Davis: Stay safe.