Wellness Exams Increasingly Include Emotional Health in the Age of COVID-19

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When it comes to life goals and resolutions, getting healthier is top of the list for many people.

The path to better health is not just about diet, exercise, blood pressure and cholesterol. Especially now, during the coronavirus pandemic, doctors increasingly see stress, anxiety, sleep deprivation and social isolation taking a toll on personal health.

“You see it all the time,” says UH internist Malka Bannet, DO. “I have had patients come in crying because of depression, anxiety, family stress and social isolation. The pandemic has brought new dimensions to all of it.”

Dr. Bannet focuses her patient wellness exams on physical health, diet and exercise, but also includes mental and emotional health.

Talk To Your Doctor

Addressing emotional health can be challenging. You can’t screen for it with a blood test or treat it with a pill. But Dr. Bannet believes talking about stressors, anxiety and depression helps many patients, and gives providers an opportunity to recommend mental health or community services.

“It’s good to talk about these things. Saying it out loud, recognizing it often helps patients,” she says.

“I ask patients, are you staying mentally strong? Are you staying engaged? I ask about their social support system," she says. "Do they interact with people, do they have a network?”

Isolation and loneliness can lead to mental and physical health problems, she says.

Sleep As a Health Issue

Sleep also is becoming increasingly recognized as an important health issue. Poor sleep has been linked to increased risk of diabetes, obesity, heart disease and depression.

Dr. Bannet says part of her patient health screening is to ask about sleep patterns, snoring, whether patients wake often in the night, feel refreshed in the morning or struggle with daytime sleepiness.

“Seven to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep is linked with physical, emotional and mental health,” Dr. Bannet says. “I see a general trend of worsening sleep habits since COVID-19 started. We find a lot of people are staying up or not sleeping well. Some stay up to work now that they are working from home.”

Primary care doctors will often refer patients with sleep problems or suspected sleep disorders to pulmonologists or sleep medicine specialists for evaluation.

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At University Hospitals, we believe having a primary care provider is essential to your health and well-being. Our primary care physicians and nurse practitioners provide comprehensive, compassionate and continuous primary care for patients of all ages. We are committed to building a healthy relationship with you and your family to detect and minimize long-term health issues, or just help you get over that illness that's going around. Need a primary care provider? Find one here.
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