Feeling down today? That’s not surprising, says leading behavioral health specialist

If Labor Day weekend traditionally marked the end of summer, then Labor Day Tuesday marked something else: a renewed emphasis on work.

With summer vacations over — and kids back in school — most people used the first week of September as a springboard to the rest of the work year.

That’s obviously not the case this year. This week brings another reminder that things are not as they used to be — something we may have forgotten in August.

So said Dr. Frank Ghinassi, the CEO of Rutgers University Behavioral Health Care and a senior vice president for RWJBarnabas Health.

“The summer offered a brief, perhaps illusory psychological exhale,” he said. “Outdoor dining, socially distanced trips to the Shore and the familiar sounds of kids away from school allowed for the closest experience of the pre-COVID life for which we’ve all been yearning.

“Now, fall comes — shorter days, cooler weather, a decidedly abnormal return to school, continued working from home for many — and the reality that the socially distanced, masked, and hand-washing new reality will be with us through the winter and into spring is slowly being fully acknowledged.”

And, it may get worse before it gets better.

Companies have been slow to return to the workplace. The state is attempting to help open more child care facilities, but the capacity restrictions of those that are open limits their ability to help. And, while some schools are starting with a hybrid model … many feel it’s only a matter of time before schools return to an all-remote model.

Of course, all of these inconveniences pale in comparison to the impact of COVID-19.

One recent study said the U.S. could have 400,000 COVID-19 fatalities by the end of the year. If true, that would more than double the existing total. Some are predicting the country could soon be averaging more than 3,000 deaths a day.

While no one can be sure about fatalities, numerous outbreaks at college campuses in the past few weeks show that COVID-19 still is with us. And may be for much longer.

Ghinassi said New Jerseyans need to recognize this.

“The exhale of summer is being replaced by the realization that our traditional holiday season from October through January will be like no other we’ve experienced, and that we have ahead of us a COVID-determined world, for at least as long as the time we’ve already spent dealing with this,” he said.

“We’ll all need to find new resolve and new resilience to navigate the months ahead, and it will be essential that we maintain our reserves of optimism and hope, along with making full use of our natural support systems of friends and family, even if it’s virtually.”

Ghinassi, however, emphasizes there are steps that can be taken. Help is available for those feeling down.

“I’d like to encourage all who even suspect they may need it to seek professional help from primary care or pediatric physicians, mental health and addictions specialists, and other health care professionals,” he said.