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Behavioral expert: Washingtonians can expect depressing fall after angry summer

(Photo by Karen Ducey/Getty Images)

If you’re wondering what your summer will look like, a psychologist says it’ll likely be angry. Then you can expect a depressing fall.

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Dr. Kira Mauseth, a clinical psychologist and senior instructor in psychology at Seattle University, is one of many studying the affects of the coronavirus pandemic on behavioral health.

Because there have been so many disasters around the world, Mauseth said there is a lot of historical data to predict our behavioral response patterns in the next six to nine months.

She said researchers are anticipating between two million and three million Washingtonians will be adversely affected from a behavioral health perspective, particularly for symptoms of depression.

Mauseth explained that acute stress and anxiety are typical symptoms within the first month or so, but so far, the anxiety in Washington state is a little less than they’d typically see. They’re beginning to see more indicators of depression leading into the summer months.

“The pandemic affects people slightly differently than let’s say an earthquake would, particularly because of the social isolation peaks and the lack of connection that comes with such a big disruption in social and economic norms,” Mauseth said.

There are still some unknowns, but Mauseth said one of the positive knowns is that human beings come through any scope of disaster with an experience of resilience. She said that feeling is across the board.

“It’s something that can be learned, it’s something that can be developed with practice and time.”

Mauseth said that we all have the opportunity to strengthen our own resilience by focusing on connection to other people, having a purpose, and being flexible and adaptive. She said it’s important right now to be creative and flexible in how we to try to connect with other people.

There are known phases of behavioral health during disasters, Mauseth said. Where Washingtonians currently stand is just past the honeymoon phase.

“What we can reasonably expect is that rates of depression are going to increase over the next three to six months,” Mauseth said.

She suggested we really need to be looking out for one another as fall approaches. The risk of suicides will increase, as the weather changes, holidays approach, and the economy worsens. Washingtonians will then be down in the disillusionment stage, when we start to accept the fact that it’s not going to go back to the way it was.

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As for the summer, Mauseth said they expect to see more acting out than acting in. Acting out is showing aggression, substance use, potential violence, and illegal behavior. Acting in is voluntary isolation, withdrawal, and not participating in things. There will be more people on the extreme ends of those two behaviors.

She said anger and aggression are almost always an expression of an underlying sense of fear. It could be a fear of things not returning to normal, it could be a fear of losing control, and it could be a fear of the unknown.

“For people who are interacting with people who are angry and aggressive, one of the basic recommendations is to actively listen as much as possible to their concerns and try to listen for what the thing is underneath the anger that they might actually be afraid of. It’s an aspect of deescalation.”

She said it’s more effective to try to understand the person’s struggles versus trying to stop the behavior.

“All of these responses, whether it’s acting out, acting in, having anxiety, having some depression, those are very, very normal responses to a highly abnormal situation,” Mauseth said.

She recommended we work on recognizing that we’re all struggling right now, offer to help each other, and strengthen our resilience.

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