Dr. Lucy McBride ’95 on COVID-19

My name is Lucy McBride. I am a practicing Internal Medicine physician in Washington DC. I was a pre-med student and an art history major at Princeton. I then earned a Masters in Pharmacology from the University of Cambridge, UK, as a Fulbright Scholar. I headed to medical school at Harvard then did my internship and residency at the Johns Hopkins Hospital.

I have been a primary care doctor in private practice for fifteen years. In addition to preventing and treating disease. I’ve always been interested in the human experience of illness and health. To me, taking care of patients involves understanding their unique health conditions, their broad human needs, and addressing mental and physical health in tandem.

When the pandemic hit, it was clear right away that my patients were starved for real-time, fact-based information and guidance on managing everyday decisions to protect their health and safety. It also was clear that we were entering a mental health crisis, a parallel pandemic of anxiety, fear, grief, and trauma.

In March 2020 I started writing a regular COVID newsletter, trying to help a wider audience make sense of the news, interpret public health guidance, and understand how to make complex decisions in an ever-evolving—and very stressful—time. Since then, the newsletter has grown and is now reaching over ten thousand people.

Indeed, no one is immune to the stress of our lives upended, the fear of a potentially lethal virus, and the deluge of bad news, particularly when robbed of our normal coping strategies.

In my office for the last year I have been helping patients manage their underlying health conditions alongside the very real physical and mental health manifestations of the pandemic.

People are suffering from high blood pressure, weight gain, back pain, headaches, insomnia, depression, anxiety, and addiction. These emotional and physical phenomena are intrinsically related. The evidence is clear that our mental health directly informs our physical health. I witness this every day in real time.

Anxiety is normal. It’s part of the human condition. Particularly during a pandemic, anxiety can take on a life of its own. When it’s in overdrive, it can alter our thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and decisions —and it can actually make us sick.

As a primary care doctor, my job is to help patients recognize that mental health matters to our everyday lives and that it directly informs our physical health. It’s to help people address mental health and physical health in tandem; to protect them from disease and arm them with tools to manage vulnerability. To name, normalize, and navigate anxiety as an essential part of being healthy. When we do that, people are empowered and better able to make smart decisions. In short, they are healthier from the inside out.

For me, helping people acknowledge their humanness and connect it to their health has been one of the silver linings of the pandemic. My hopes are that: 1) our healthcare system evolves to better serve patients’ whole health and 2) in the meantime, individuals know to bring their mental health to the doctor’s office.

To learn more about Dr. McBride and subscribe to her newsletter, visit www.lucymcbride.com