The Effects of the Pandemic on Individuals with MS
By Miriam Franco, PsyD MSCS
Psychotherapist and Psychoanalyst
An esteemed member of MSAA’s Healthcare Advisory Council for many years, Dr. Miriam Franco is a psychotherapist and psychoanalyst who specializes in helping individuals cope with chronic illness. She has a private practice in the Philadelphia area.
“In my practice, I have observed particular reactions to the COVID-19 pandemic among my MS clients. These individuals have certainly experienced sharp increases in anxiety as well as a heightened sense of vulnerability and exposure to risk during the onset of the viral spread and the start of lockdown and social distancing.
“However, as time passed and we learned somewhat more about COVID as a disease, I found that reactivity to the effects of COVID – isolation, children out of school, access to healthcare, lack of adequate testing resources, financial concerns, etc. – were generally similar to the concerns others felt and experienced who do not have MS. Naturally, individual variables are most relevant here, such as where in the United States one lives and the rate of COVID spread, whether one has social supports nearby, access to healthcare, and how flexible work options are regarding where and when one works. These factors appeared to be more significant than having MS itself. Of course, any one of these factors, if present, is challenging when one is concerned about their higher-risk status in terms of comorbidities, should he or she come down with the virus.
“Some common themes specific to having MS and coping with the aftermath of COVID did emerge. Those who had engaged in intensive physical therapy to gain or sustain balance, mobility, or pain relief, went on to experience profound frustration, worry, and loss because physical therapy treatment was not available for four-to-six months. This interruption of therapy appears to have created a serious setback and current challenge.
“On the other hand, many have marveled at how much better their virtual appointments with their neurologists have been because they’re typically longer online and more relaxed, given the increased convenience for both parties. Initially, in the Philadelphia area, patients expressed increased fear and concern regarding safety and viral risk while obtaining infusion treatment at major centers. This has since decreased as local facilities have gotten savvy about how to set up, prepare, protect, and educate those receiving infusions.
“The simultaneous effect of the current political climate and COVID spread was and continues to be an identified source of angst, concern, and anxiety for my clients, with or without MS. For individuals with MS, having a therapist knowledgeable about MS and health concerns related to COVID is an advantage in that they feel they have a professional who can understand their concerns, connect them to organizations or resources to clarify issues, and respond to their needs. This creates a sense of safety and connection, while decreasing one’s sense of isolation, which is felt by so many of us during this time.”