Local mental health therapists say the quarantine has taken a big toll on Bakersfield residents' psychological well-being, increasing risks of depression and anxiety while threatening long-term damage that could take serious work to repair.
Together with troubling data from recent surveys, their observations suggest stay-home orders that have otherwise yielded benefits including greater work productivity and more family time have also raised rates of work-from-home burnout.
People are working longer hours while also having to look after their children and therapists say the combination is raising stress levels. They also point to new stressors ranging from unemployment and unbroken monotony to isolation.
The good news is that many countermeasures are available at home for free, such as personal exercise routines and simple breathing techniques, they say. Sometimes the solution might be as basic as taking a break or stepping outside.
Bakersfield licensed clinical social worker James Holland Jr. recalled an overwhelmed father with a 10-year-old daughter and a pool.
Because the father was working from home during the pandemic, his daughter constantly begged him to play in the water with her. Holland said the man was stressed out because of not being able to make time for play.
Holland reminded the man that employers give their workers short breaks throughout the workday. He told the man to take those breaks and spend them with his daughter.
"If you have a 30-minute or hour lunch," he said, "make the appointment and definitely spend that time with family.”
A survey by employee engagement company Glint of more than 1,000 people from mid-April says a fifth to a third of workers have experienced symptoms of depression during the COVID-19 quarantine.
Results from a separate, much larger survey done in April by the Society for Human Resource Management suggest that, as compared with March, comments relating to employee burnout doubled in incidence to 5.4 percent of respondents.
Bakersfield licensed clinical social worker Rudy Hernandez said he's definitely noticed an increase in burnout from more people working from home.
Employees are more accessible when they're at home, partly because there's nowhere else to go, he said, and they're becoming exhausted.
A big part of the problem is they aren't taking their usual breaks, such as getting coffee or going out to lunch, he said. Even weekends offer little respite.
"It’s this new dynamic with the quarantine where (people) can’t just get out,” he said.
Then there's the everyday stresses of going to the store, putting on a mask, balancing finances. Amid all this, he said, people's support systems — the in-laws who babysit the children, the friends who join trips to sporting events — are essentially gone.
Hernandez said he promotes exercising or doing yoga along with YouTube videos. Kids should also be allowed to take time away, he said, including in cases where their school performance is lagging.
"It's OK to give them that break," he said.
Therapist Courtney Rayne, president and CEO of Ananda Rayne Wellness, and division president of Aspire Behavioral Health in Bakersfield, said working from home has actually been good for many people. It allows them time to step away from work if needed and be with family more, plus she said it's led to reports of increased work productivity.
But she said it's also disrupted schedules, leaving some people feeling helpless and disconnected. For some, it's the first time they've had to deal with depression or anxiety.
With stress levels up, people are drinking too much, she said.
"Now they can drink wine all day," she said. "It’s been kind of a fun thing but at the same time that can really develop some long-lasting issues.”
Repercussions are playing out among people who get therapy, too: After an initial drop in the number of virtual visits with patients, there's been something of a recovery, she said — but it's not the same.
Reading someone's emotional state can be difficult by video, she said. The trauma patients she works with are difficult to assess except in person.
Holland said something similar: What you see on a videoconference therapy session isn't necessarily the whole picture. It may be that someone in the next room is listening in and getting ready to throw the patient's verbal account back in their faces, he said.
What's more, patients who a therapist may deem to be a threat to themselves or others are no longer in the office and relatively easy to turn over to authorities, Holland said.
Bakersfield human resources specialist Robin Paggi said she recognizes signs of work-from-home stresses in her own life. She sees herself as an extrovert in need of regular human interactions.
Her solution was to begin working from her dining room table, which affords her a view of the street.
"Just seeing people walk by has helped me not feel so isolated," she said.