The Psychological Impact of Covid-19 – An Interview with Dr. Jaye-Jo Portanova

Winter 2019 Newsletter

Jaye-Jo Portanova, M.D. is an experienced adult and child psychiatrist specializing in mediation, co-parenting counseling, collaborative law, attorney/client consultation, and family therapy. She received her undergraduate and medical degrees at University of California, Los Angeles. She is board certified in both adult and child psychiatry. Dr. Portanova was selected by Los Angeles Superior Court judges to serve on the downtown Los Angeles psychiatric custody evaluation panel, and has performed numerous child custody evaluations. She practices collaborative law as a divorce and child specialist coach with A Better Divorce. Also, she mediates custody cases privately and is a Parenting Plan Coordinator (PPC or Special Master) for high-conflict family law cases. Dr. Portanova has been practicing in the Los Angeles area for over 30 years. Her extensive training and experience with parents and children provide her with unique skills to facilitate families through this difficult and stressful time.

A medical doctor and mental health professional who served on LevittQuinn’s Board of Directors, Dr. Jaye-Jo Portanova points out that up until now a key aspect of the impact of Covid-19 on our collective experience has been absent from the conversation. What is only now starting to emerge is thoughtful consideration of the waves of psychological impact generated by Covid-19. Rhetoric related to quarantine orders often includes the notion of a “pause,” as in “the world has been put on pause.” To the extent “pause” connotes respite, healing, a restorative break, a moment to catch one’s breath and regroup, use of this language with regard to Covid-19 reflects extreme privilege and the willful erasure of the experience of most families.

Impact of Social Isolation

Even setting aside for the moment justifiable fears about contracting the virus, Dr. Portanova points out that the social isolation engendered by shelter-in-place restrictions has a profound impact on family dynamics, children, and relationships. Financial instability, compromised physical health, and lack of social interaction directly and adversely affect mental health and wellness. This is especially true for populations already coping with underlying conditions such as agoraphobia, depression, PTSD (whether or not related to domestic abuse, poverty or child abuse), paranoia, or any other type of social anxiety; these populations are at higher risk for adverse consequences. While stay-at-home orders are absolutely vital from a disease containment perspective, they do come at a psychological cost that it is crucial to acknowledge and address.

Parents on the Edge

Additional stressors can include school closures and the resulting need for parents to take primary responsibility for their children’s day-to-day educational activities. When these parents lack resources, including access to a reliable internet connection, computers and other technology that distance learning requires, as well as parents’ need to juggle work-from-home activities and somehow manage everyone’s feelings about the sudden isolation and dramatic change in routine, they can find it even more difficult to cope.  Some families may have experienced an initial period of shock; at this point, however, any novelty there may have been has worn off, people are exhausted, and there is little to buffer the psychological consequences of our changed world.

In terms of co-parenting and visitation issues, Dr. Portanova has noticed in some families that parents who were never fully on board with sharing time and never wholeheartedly supportive of the other parent’s relationship with the children have been acting out by withholding contact and employing self-help measures using Covid-19-related restrictions as a pretext. Other parents flout social distancing norms in ways that make their co-parents frantic. The functional inability of our courts to intervene at this time except in true emergencies creates a feeling that people are “on their own” and self-help measures are permissible. The resulting increased chaos and escalated tensions between parents are extremely dangerous for children and likely to have long-term fallout that will persist long after Covid-19 restrictions are lifted.

Increased Risk for Vulnerable People

For populations whose mental health is already vulnerable due to poverty, violence, homelessness, or other circumstances, the current restrictions are ratcheting up danger and intensifying crisis as opposed to defusing or healing it. Encountering increased reports of child abuse which she believes are directly related to Covid-19 restrictions, Dr. Portanova expresses particular concern for families experiencing domestic abuse. Given the ways in which shelter-at-home may exacerbate imbalanced power dynamics and the actual and/or perceived functional inability of first responders to intervene, those experiencing abuse may feel more trapped and perpetrators may feel emboldened.

You Can Make A Difference

Dr. Portanova urges that now, more than ever, we must take steps to address the psychological ramifications of the Covid-19 crisis by fortifying the infrastructure in place for those in need. Standing with families in crisis and helping them access legal advice and services, LevittQuinn is a vital component of that infrastructure.