ROSWELL, Ga. — A board-certified clinical health psychologist told Roswell Rotary members about the importance of mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Dr. Ryan Breshears, the chief behavioral health officer for WellStar Health System and director of psychology and psychiatry for the WellStar Medical Group, spoke July 23 at a meeting of the Roswell Rotary Club. 

“My concern as a behavioral health provider is that this is a behavioral health pandemic as well as a biological pandemic,” Breshears said.

He said he realized early on during the pandemic the need for physical and emotional support in the workforce, especially in the medical field. He cited examples from the SARS outbreak of 2003, when healthcare workers experienced burnout and psychiatric distress in the immediate aftermath of the crisis.

Breshears and his team at WellStar put together a comprehensive plan to proactively support front-line healthcare workers, including a podcast series, mindfulness groups, support groups, pastoral care support and more. Over time, they saw their front-line employees report less distress on a scale from one to 10.

Unfortunately, those numbers have gone up with the surge of coronavirus cases in Georgia.

Healthcare workers are not the only ones susceptible to mental health issues during the pandemic, though.

“COVID-19 exposes and exacerbates preexisting vulnerabilities in every human system,” Breshears said.

He pointed to senior citizens who might be isolated away from family members and not adept with technology. The effects of isolation combined with the fear of contracting the virus could be detrimental to their mental health, he said. 

Add to that, he said, there are increased stressors, such as economic concerns, socio-political unrest in America over racial inequality and the pending election, adding to the arena of complications people are dealing with.

“I think the point is it’s all connected,” Breshears said. “Wherever people are experiencing stress or distress in their life, it’s not in a vacuum.”

Breshears grew up in Georgia and earned both his undergraduate and doctorate degrees from the University of Georgia. His research and publications center around suicide prevention, post-traumatic stress disorder, and predicting suicide-related behavior in veterans with traumatic brain injuries.

Roswell Rotary hosts weekly meetings each Thursday at 12:15 p.m.

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