UC Berkeley researchers warn of COVID-19’s mental health ‘second curve,’ launch campus platform

Berkeley Way West
Karen Chow/File
The campus School of Public Health recently released a report detailing COVID-19's 'second curve,' which includes negative effects on mental health due to financial loss and the death of loved ones, among other factors.

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According to a recent report from the UC Berkeley School of Public Health, the “second curve” of the COVID-19 pandemic, a wave of mental health harms, is here.

The report, co-authored by School of Public Health associate clinical professor Deryk Van Brunt, suggests that social distancing, financial loss and lack of a vaccine are all factors associated with an increase in mental and emotional harm. For those who have experienced the death of loved ones or work in high-risk essential roles, grief and extreme stress can also pose additional risks to mental well-being.

“What the pandemic has done is exacerbate mental health issues that were mostly already there. Substance abuse, depression, anxiety, stress, etc. were already present in many of our students,” Van Brunt said in an email. “Sadly the pandemic has made many of these conditions more acute.”

According to Van Brunt, similar trends occurred at the national level after MERS and SARS outbreaks.

“There are already signs of increased stress levels and depression, as well as issues like domestic violence, that are bound to be predictive of further ‘mental health waves’ related to the pandemic,” said campus psychology professor Stephen Hinshaw in an email.

In order to “flatten” the second curve of mental health harms caused by the pandemic, Van Brunt and co-author Jonathan Adler, a practicing emergency medicine physician, said early identification of mental health concerns is crucial.

In particular, public outreach to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health and wider adoption of technology and telemedicine could help individuals better understand and manage their own mental health, the report states.

“People already struggling are at risk to have symptoms escalate and treatment options are limited by the pandemic itself,” Adler said in an email. “This is where evidence-based self-help can play a role.”

Van Brunt added that about 75% of people struggling with poor mental health will go without clinical assistance. For students in particular, he said, an academic environment can add to the stress they experience.

According to Hinshaw, it is not a sign of weakness to experience anxiety, depression or hopelessness during this time.

In the fall, Adler and Van Brunt’s CredibleMind platform will formally launch on campus following a “soft” launch a few months ago, Adler said.

Using artificial intelligence, CredibleMind will allow students to take mental health assessments and find digital resources and offerings from the University Health Services Tang Center.

“We have a long way to go to help each student flourish at Berkeley and in life,” Van Brunt said in the email. “But as a campus we are on the leading edge of research and work in this area and have amazing resources at Berkeley to lead in student wellness.”

Contact Jessica Li at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @JessicaLi57.