Courtney Crooks on Promoting Mental and Physical Wellness in a Post-Covid World
When it comes to health, promoting a strong exterior and interior is equally important.
"Physical health and mental health go hand in hand," said Courtney Crooks, Ph.D., a principal research scientist at the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI). Crooks is also a licensed psychologist and a U.S. Navy veteran with 20 years of applied psychology experience, including research, education, and clinical practice. "I think sometimes, there's an emphasis on physical health and less of an emphasis on mental health," Crooks said. Crooks added that she strong believes both physical and mental health should be emphasized together as a “wellness package."
Though mental health has long been considered a sensitive topic, the Covid-19 pandemic has encouraged more transparency about the importance of prioritizing mental and physical well-being at home and at work.
At the onset of the pandemic in early 2020, people were deluged with various stressors – such as adapting to remote work, homeschooling children, grieving the loss of a loved one, and recovering from the physical effects of the virus or another illness, Crooks explained. With the world having entered the third year of the pandemic, Crooks said many people are still grappling with the pandemic's many life-altering changes.
"The fact that the pandemic was a long-term event means it's going to have long-term consequences," said Crooks. Crooks emphasized that as a community, people need to understand that the pandemic was traumatic both to individuals and to society as a whole, the pandemic resulted in a range of different experiences, and the effects of the pandemic will persist even after people return to the workforce.
For instance, as a result of the "collective trauma" of the pandemic, Crooks noted that in addition to other life impacts, it is not uncommon for people to still be experiencing physical or mental fatigue, physical challenges such as muscle soreness, other illnesses, and new or possibly worsening symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Crooks applauded the resources available to GTRI employees to address these challenges, including the University System of Georgia's (USG) Employee Assistance Program (EAP). EAP provides counseling and well-being services, including up to four counseling sessions per issue, per calendar year with licensed clinical professionals, financial and legal consultations, and resources and referrals regarding child care, elder care, special needs, and more. GTRI employees may alternatively decide to consult through in-person or teletherapy with an in-network mental health provider affiliated with their individual health insurance plan or with an out-of-network provider of their choosing.
Looking ahead, Crooks encouraged GTRI to continue promoting the mental and physical wellness of employees by promoting various activities that fit their lifestyle preferences. For example, individual wellness plans may include engaging in athletic activities, meditation, active health services, social interaction, or some combination of these, depending on people's personal needs. As to a recommendation on how to develop an individual wellness package, Crooks said that a good start should involve "using our resources and provider networks to understand what is the best approach for each individual."
The Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) is the nonprofit, applied research division of the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech). Founded in 1934 as the Engineering Experiment Station, GTRI has grown to more than 2,800 employees supporting eight laboratories in over 20 locations around the country and performing more than $700 million of problem-solving research annually for government and industry. GTRI's renowned researchers combine science, engineering, economics, policy, and technical expertise to solve complex problems for the U.S. federal government, state, and industry.