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Deborah Haarsma
 on April 17, 2020

Francis Collins speaks out on mental health during COVID-19

Francis Collins interviews NIMH director Joshua Gordon, and talks with him about taking care of our mental health in the wake of the changes the pandemic has brought.

man covering face and sitting on a couch

It’s not just anxiety about contracting the coronavirus, it’s also fear and anxiety about what’s happening to society, what’s happening to our economy, what’s happening to our friends and relatives. And then there is tremendous grief. We’ve acknowledged that we’ve all lost something already.

Joshua Gordon
Joshua Gordon, Director of NIMH

I hope you had a chance to hear our recent livestream with Francis Collins. I’d like to highlight one thing he spoke about: the challenges to mental health at this time. The coronavirus is contagious and has no cure, so we must stay physically distant from one another. If we don’t, hospitals will be overwhelmed and many more people will die. In the first two weeks of April, the number of reported U.S. deaths from COVID-19 was over 15 times the number of deaths from influenza, and numbers are still incomplete.

However, as we all are painfully aware, the necessary efforts to preserve physical health are putting a big strain on our mental health, family dynamics, economic security, and spiritual health. On April 7, Francis Collins talked specifically about mental health issues with his colleague, Joshua Gordon, Director of NIH’s National Institute of Mental Health.

The two talked through many issues related to mental health, including how to overcome isolation by connecting remotely with friends and family. Collins, for example, said he has been holding weekly Zoom meetings with his children and grandchildren.

Gordon said, “We’ve lost our normal day-to-day interactions. We’ve lost our ability to physically connect with people and it makes it more challenging to socially connect with people. And we’ve lost that sense of certainty and self-power.”

They also discussed challenges of fear, stress, anxiety, and grief, and several things people can do to cope with it all–including how to recognize if you or someone you love needs help from a mental health professional.

Insight from Gordon: “We’re all feeling anxious, but if you feel so anxious you can’t get your work done, you actually can’t do the thing that you set out to do, reach out for help either from a friend or from a professional. Other signs would be you’re starting to withdraw from people, having trouble sleeping, change in appetite, change in physical energy levels, or starting to become irritable or angry.”

You can read their exchange in its entirety on the NIH Director’s Blog.

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About the author

Deb Haarsma

Deborah Haarsma

Deborah Haarsma is President of BioLogos. She is an astrophysicist and frequent speaker on modern science and Christian faith at research universities, churches, and public venues like the National Press Club. Her work appears in several recent books, including Four Views on Creation, Evolution, and Design and Christ and the Created Order.  She wrote the book Origins with her husband and fellow physicist, Loren Haarsma, presenting the agreements and disagreements among Christians regarding the history of life and the universe.  She edited the anthology Delight in Creation: Scientists Share Their Work with the Church with Rev. Scott Hoezee. Previously, Haarsma served as professor and chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Calvin University. She is an experienced research scientist, with several publications in the Astrophysical Journal and the Astronomical Journal on extragalactic astronomy and cosmology. She has studied large galaxies, galaxy clusters, the curvature of space, and the expansion of the universe using telescopes around the world and in orbit.  Haarsma completed her doctoral work in astrophysics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and her undergraduate work in physics and music at Bethel University in St. Paul, Minnesota. She and Loren enjoy science fiction and classical music, and live in Grand Rapids, Michigan.