Expert: Trauma, Stress from the COVID-19 Pandemic Can Cause ‘Poor Health Outcomes Overall’

Caroline Carney, MD, MSc, FAPM, CPHQ, chief medical officer of Magellan Health, a board-certified internist, and a board-certified psychiatrist, discusses the impact of trauma and stress on overall health during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pharmacy Times® interviewed Caroline Carney, MD, MSc, FAPM, CPHQ, chief medical officer of Magellan Health, a board-certified internist, and a board-certified psychiatrist, to discuss the correlation between heart health and mental health.

Alana Hippensteele: Mother’s Day is coming up, so joining me is Caroline Carney, the chief medical officer of Magellan Health, a board-certified internist, and a board-certified psychiatrist.

She’s joining me to discuss the correlation between heart health and mental health, especially in light of heart disease being the leading cause of death in the US and the number one killer of women aged 65 years and older, with approximately 1 woman dying every minute of this disease.

Why might pharmacists and other health care professionals in particular be struggling with a negative mental health outlook especially during the difficulties and trials of the COVID-19 pandemic?

Caroline Carney: Yeah, those individuals who are on the front lines of health care absolutely have been exposed to fewer hours of sleep, higher levels of stress, and particularly post-traumatic stress.

The kinds of scenes that my colleagues have been living through over and over and over are those that are heartbreaking, and that kind of mental stress can contribute, again, to a poor health outcome overall for that individual, in addition to doing more of those kinds of behaviors that don't support our overall health as a way to mitigate stress or to try to treat that stress.

So, the medical community has really in the front line, whether these are first responders as EMTs, whether they're pharmacists knowing and understanding that individuals who were getting their medications filled for instance no longer are because they've stopped coming in for care, whether these were doctors and nurses and techs on the front lines in the hospitals or in clinics—they all have really been affected by what they have been doing to help save and treat the rest of us.

Alana Hippensteele: Yeah, absolutely. How would you recommend health care professionals approach an awareness of their own negative mental health outlook?

Caroline Carney: I think it's so critically important. The first thing that I have advised colleagues and others to do is to really step back and take a look at themselves to say, ‘Am I functioning the same way that I functioned before? Have my feelings become more hardened? Have I become more distant from that person I used to be able to have a connection with, whether that was a patient or whether it was someone in my family group or my friend group?’ and to look at the kinds of things that may have changed for them just overall in their well-being.

Secondly, if they look at how they're eating, how they're sleeping, how they're engaging in activities that they used to enjoy before and say they no longer get any pleasure from—so, if I used to love to come home and watch a certain television show, for instance, and now I come home from work and I just don't care, that is a huge predictor that something emotionally has changed for that individual.

Finally, taking a look at the kinds of behaviors: Am I drinking more, am I eating more, am I more reckless when I drive. What has changed about how I'm acting?

I think one of the hardest things is to hear from a loved one or a friend, ‘I'm worried about you.’ But if someone says, ‘I'm worried about you,’ you have to listen to them because that outside observation is often the most insightful and most important for us to hear. As hard as it may be, those around us, those who love us are often the best mirrors of how we're doing.