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Medical Student Amira Athanasios ’15 Focuses on Health of Body and Mind Amid COVID-19

In our new series, “Confidence, Courage, Hope,” we profile exceptional Scripps students, alumnae, faculty, and staff who are making a difference–from the local to the global–at the front lines of COVID-19. As we face these unprecedented challenges, the Scripps College community comes together for inspiration and solidarity in this unique moment in history.

The preservation of physical health has been at the forefront of news coverage and public health organization advisories. However, these discussions can often overlook a vital component of wellness: a concern for mental health, especially among healthcare workers.

“Through following the news daily, it became evident that general mental health has suffered greatly during the pandemic, with sharp and sudden increases in symptoms of anxiety and depression,” says Amira Athanasios ’15, who is a fourth-year medical student at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences.

Athanasios is pursuing the Global Health Scholarly Track program, which aims to increase students’ awareness of international health systems, global diseases, and assessment techniques for the specific health needs of countries at various stages of development.

Through the program, she is exploring physician mental health throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. It became immediately clear to her that healthcare workers on the front lines are suffering greatly. In her recent op-ed, published by KevinMD.com, Athanasios notes that relative to the general populations, physicians have higher rates of suicide. In the context of COVID-19, with its “atmosphere of panic, fear, and isolation,” these rates could skyrocket.

“Physicians’ dedication to caring for patients is extraordinary,” says Athanasios. “And while physicians nationwide have expressed anger and resentment towards healthcare systems and governments that have failed to provide adequate safety precautions, they keep showing up.” This tenuous balance between duty and risk can lead to acute stress disorder and acute anxiety among physicians.

To combat physician risk of mental health disorders during COVID-19, Athanasios advises people to utilize the healthcare system with care. “Those of us who are healthy, irrespective of age, can stay home in the attempt to contain the spread of the virus. Those who are ill, even with fever, cough, and body aches, should self-quarantine at home, as our hospitals can only admit the most ill patients who are severely short of breath,” she says. Athanasios also encourages people to check in on the healthcare workers in their lives: send texts, thank them for their service, and ask them if they need help.

With plans to ultimately specialize in psychiatry, Athanasios will begin an internal medicine residency this fall. She credits Scripps with helping her develop the wellness mindset that continues to drive her approach as a medical professional. “Outside of academics, Scripps taught me how to create spaces of encouragement and positive affirmation,” she says.

To that end, Athanasios has created a list of online resources for those within and outside of the medical field to access mental wellness and self-care tools. “This is a time to really listen to what our bodies and minds need to feel well, whether that looks like resting more, going out for daily walks, working out, being more creative, or continuing to watch that favorite show over again,” she says. “Make the healthy choice the easy choice.”

Share your story from the front lines of COVID-19, or let us know about a Scripps classmate, alum, faculty, or staff member who is making a difference in this global pandemic at scrippscollege.edu/confidencecouragehope.

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