Psychologist links prolonged poor air quality to increase in depression and isolation

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Sunday, September 13, 2020
Poor air quality takes toll on mental health, psychologist says
A combination of COVID-19, wildfires and now smoke is keeping Bay Area residents indoors much more and a San Francisco psychologist is seeing the impact on her patients' mental health.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- A San Francisco psychologist has seen an increase in patients feeling isolated and depressed during the last week as air quality turned unhealthy due to wildfires burning across the West Coast.

WATCH: Here's when Bay Area air quality will improve and rain may move in

The smoke certainly will continue to bring the Bay Area's air quality into the unhealthy category and poor visibility will continue to start our weekend, but Sunday and the days ahead are looking brighter.

From behind closed windows, Castro resident John Goldsmith enjoys the sound of the first signs of normalcy coming from the restaurant across from his apartment.

"I enjoy seeing the outdoor diners here. It's heartening. They've been busy since they opened outdoors. It's great to see people enjoying it and glasses clinking. I welcome that,' said John Goldsmith.

A combination of COVID-19, fires and now the smoke is keeping him inside longer than usual.

"Yesterday, I had a headache all day long, and it was from the pollution. But also anxiety and stress-induced and a lack of exercise," described Goldsmith.

LIVE: Track air quality levels impacted wildfire smoke

Doctor of clinical psychology Andrea Zorbas is seeing an increase in patients reporting headaches and signs of depression. The poor air quality is to blame.

"In Seattle, Washington where it's raining all the time people get seasonal affective disorder and that is a form of depression caused by clouds, rain, fog and we are kind of experiencing that now," said Zorbas.

Zoe Young and John Perovich are relying on each other.

"On the edge of a crisis at any time and the other person has to be the comforter or the comforted," said Young.

Dr. Zorbas recommends reaching out to a family friend or family member or pick up a hobby during these smoky days.

WATCH:Bay Area shrouded in smoke as Northern California wildfires rage

From Oakland to Point Reyes, smoke enveloped the Bay Area as fires scorched Northern California.

"Find ways to sort of entertain yourself while you're home. Now is the time to try the recipe you haven't tried," said Zorbas.

We met Shawn O-hearn doing just that. On a regular Saturday, he would be at the beach. Not today.

"Instead what are you doing today? I'm going to work on a puzzle, I'm going to read some books, bake and cook and do things in my kitchen that I love doing," said O-hearn.

TAKE ACTION: Get help with mental health issues

He hadn't left the house in 3 days, but tonight he made a quick exception to share on the joy.

"They are my favorite cookies. And so I make them all the time," said O-hearn while sharing his fresh baked cookies.

The air quality is projected to improve on Monday.