Posted on October 27, 2020
As we reflect on October and National Depression and Mental Health Screening Month, we recognize the toll the COVID-19 pandemic has taken on many people’s mental health. For many, these past months may have worsened mental health disorders and increased suicidal ideation for some. However, you do not have to struggle alone. At Harmonia we are here to help if you are struggling. Our counselors are available for select in-person and teletherapy visits. Call us at 716.947.5025 or visit us at harmonia-care.org/Contact and send us an email to set up an appointment.
Prior to the outbreak of the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) in early 2020, mental illnesses in the United States were common. Nearly one in five U.S. adults report having a mental illness such as depression or anxiety. Since the emergence of COVID-19, there has been an increased strain for many and even higher numbers reporting mental illness. For millions, this time has been incredibly stressful and has led to increased fear, anxiety, depression, and other behavioral health concerns. Events associated with the pandemic such as isolation, job loss, financial insecurity, anxiety about illness, and burnout have contributed to these increases. One survey found that nearly half of adults in the United States reported decreased mental health due to worry over the virus. As nearly every community is affected by this pandemic, it is vital to understand the mental health concerns associated with COVID-19 and possible coping methods and resources to stay healthy both physically and mentally.
Although all demographics are affected by COVID-19, there are specific groups, such as seniors, children/adolescents, and parents, that have specific considerations when it comes to mental health. Older adults and those with serious comorbidities are more likely than other age groups to develop serious illness if they contract COVID-19. Because of this risk and their increased vulnerability, it is especially important for seniors and those at high risk to practice social distancing and to isolate themselves from others such as caregivers and loved ones. This increased isolation may lead to feelings of loneliness, depression, anxiety, and more.
A second group needing increased consideration is children and adolescents. At the start of the outbreak, nearly every state had closed schools to decrease the chance of spreading COVID-19, which has affected 30 million students and their caregivers. While the school closings were necessary to address public health concerns, students have lost much of their social interaction, mental health services, and access to key social services. This may have exacerbated mental illness among children and adolescents, many of whom already struggle with their mental health and look to school as a safety net. Although we now know that children are less vulnerable to contracting COVID-19 and from having serious medical complications, new challenges have arisen. Many children and parents are trying to balance the hybrid model, which can put a strain on parent work schedules, and add to the worry around the possibilities of schools closing again.
One Harmonia mental health counselor has found, “My clients, particularly individuals with children, are experiencing a lot of stress due to the unknown surrounding the current school year. The lack of direction from various school districts has many clients scrambling to figure things out without having the whole picture of what to expect. Each of the three possible options has its challenges, and it is causing a lot of distress and worry.
However, we know that coping with the stress and mental strain caused by COVID-19 in a healthy way can increase your mental health, the mental health of those most vulnerable, and the mental health of your community. To get immediate help in a crisis call Crisis Services at 834-3131. Other resources include 911 or use the Disaster Distress Helpline, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, the National Domestic Violence Hotline, the National Child Abuse Hotline, the Eldercare Locator, and/or the Veteran’s Crisis Line. Additionally, if you are struggling with a substance use disorder, you can contact SAMHSA’s National Helpline or use the Treatment Services Locator. Call us at Harmonia Collaborative Care to help you find the right resource.
Director of Mental Health Clinics, Megan Brautlacht emphasizes that,”COVID has redirected attention to the importance of self-care for both providers and clients, as we all learn to cope with the ongoing changes and uncertainty. Self-care is no longer a luxury, but a necessity to stay well during these times”. Further, Clinic Coordinator Debra Henderson has found that many clients have worked through the transition to teletherapy well, but finds that “…with the pandemic as ongoing and the uncertainty of when things will return to some semblance of normal, symptoms persist and at times worsen with people reaching a pandemic fatigue of sorts where they are somewhat apathetic and tired of waiting for things to change. Many find solace in the fact that this is a universal struggle as everyone has been impacted in some way by the pandemic and it is through this shared experience that we can connect and provide support during this novel time”. However, the challenges to mental health are still eminent, and the isolation and fear that COVID created is palpable. People are still uncertain about how to go about their lives.
Luckily, there are healthy ways to cope with the stress caused by COVID-19 and to take care of your mental health. Some ways to cope include:
- Being physically active – research has shown that being active is vital for mental health and taking time to walk, run, do a free at home workout, or more can relieve stress
- Maintaining social connections – although many of us are physically separated for public health, using social media, video chatting, or calling on the phone can increase feelings of connectedness
- Limiting your time consuming media – overconsumption of content may heighten feelings of stress during this time when media attention is focused on stress-inducing events
- Avoiding excessive alcohol and drug use – using substances to cope many lead to poorer mental health and/or addiction
- Getting enough sleep – getting enough sleep allows the body to rest and can decrease feelings of anxiety and agitation
- Finding support – talking with a licensed mental health professional either in person or virtually can improve your mental health
During this time when social distancing is encouraged, many are turning to teletherapy to receive care. Research shows that virtual care has increased nearly doubling since the summer of 2019, with 23% of those surveyed having used telehealth since the pandemic started.
Harmonia CEO, Valerie Nowak explains how the organization has pivoted to support mental health needs in a changing environment, “We are limiting our in-person sessions due to the NYS Office of Mental Health guidance. We are offering first-time in-person sessions now, if able and requested. Our therapists have been incredibly flexible in the way they are serving our community and delivering care. We assure we will deliver service the best we can for the mental and physical health of our clients and our clinicians”.
If you are looking to connect with a mental health professional, Harmonia Collaborative Care provides counseling both in person and virtually during this time.