Mini Medical School: Coping In The Time Of COVID

November 3, 2021

Older adults have weathered the COVID-19 pandemic relatively well, but young adults have suffered,” Dr. James Reeves, a psychiatrist at University Medical Center, said during a Mini Medical School presentation in October.

Reeves said typically as people get older, “they tend to be happier. There’s less depression, anger and anxiety. For older adults, time is finite. They appreciate family, friends and everyday pleasures.”

Young adults, on the other hand, are dealing with careers, financial obligations, their own families and other stressful factors. “There’s a lot weighing on them,” Reeves said.

Mini Medical School is a collaboration of The University of Alabama’s OLLI program and UA’s College of Community Health Sciences, which operates UMC.

There is no question that COVID-19 has been stressful for everyone,” Reeves said. The pandemic resulted in a sudden and unexpected loss of normalcy, such as gathering with friends and family and eating in restaurants. Social isolation and uncertainty have contributed to the increased anxiety that many people continue to experience, Reeves said.

Studies show that prior to the pandemic, 11% of U.S. adults reported experiencing anxiety and depression, but in January 2021 that increased four-fold to more than 40%. Reeves noted that:

Reeves said older people handle stress better than younger adults “because they’ve had a lifetime of experiences to refine their coping skills and become more resilient. They’ve experienced economic depressions, illnesses and layoffs. Based on past experiences, they know things will get better.” He also said they have had a lifetime to develop support networks.

Reeves said an April 2020 study showed that older adults are coping well by maintaining a daily routine; keeping busy with crafts, puzzles and hobbies; walking outside in nature; leaning on their faith; helping others by making protective face masks and helping with food drives; and using technology to lessen loneliness and keep in touch with family and friends.

Still, Reeves said there are elderly adults who might not be faring as well, including those in nursing homes and memory care units where they might not have access to activities, socialization and access to virtual support, and if they have cognitive challenges.

For young adults, suicides are a concern, Reeves said. Universities are reporting increased rates of suicides, suicide attempts, self-injury and substance abuse. Reeves said these young adults have had to deal with online learning, as well as the loss of housing, internships, work-study programs, and activities and interaction with social groups, friends and teammates. “There’s a loss of structure and routine, and loneliness and isolation,” he said.

“But when all this is said and done, young adults will be resilient and adapt,” Reeves said. “This is the first big adversity they’ve gone through. I think this generation will adapt and overcome.”

He said COVID-19 has helped in other ways – using technology for support, finding new hobbies, enjoying life pleasures that might have been overlooked before COVID-19.

“Although things are different, there is light at the end of the tunnel,” Reeves said

The Mini Medical School program has been presented by CCHS faculty since 2016. It provides an opportunity for community learners to explore trends in medicine and health, and the lectures offer important information about issues and advances in medicine and research.