Many of us are aware of the physical symptoms of COVID-19: fever, cough, upper-respiratory distress, and/or a loss of taste and smell. What many Americans have not yet understood are the negative mental health effects of both infected and non-infected individuals during the pandemic.
According to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll, more than 30 percent of American adults are now experiencing anxiety and depression due to the added stressors of the pandemic. A study done by Mental Health America reported a 19 percent increase in screening for clinical anxiety in February and an additional 12 percent increase in March. These percentages represent thousands of people who are experiencing symptoms of weight loss, restlessness, fatigue, sadness, excessive worry, and more due to the social isolation, potential financial stress, and general uncertainty of this COVID-19 era.
Mental health professionals April Lamoreaux and Diane Wright offer their perspectives and advice on how to care for your mental health during the pandemic. Lamoreaux is a licensed professional counselor at a private Mason-based practice called Kintsukuroi Counseling. Wright is the Vice President of Quality, Contract Management and Compliance for Greater Cincinnati Behavioral Health Services (GCBHS) as well as an independently licensed social worker. While both women work in mental health counseling, they serve different populations and offer a variety of support. Lamoreaux works with about 20 adults in private one-on-one sessions, whereas Wright and the 700-member GCBHS staff provide 10,000 Cincinnatians with a variety of programs from outpatient services to school-based counseling to substance abuse treatment.
“We are not wired for isolation,” Wright says. “In a lot of ways, this has made existing problems worse and adds new stressors to people who had already been experiencing anxiety or distress.”
According to both professionals, one of the best things people can do for their mental health is to maintain connections with others. “If this is becoming the new normal, we need to ask ourselves how we’ll become OK with that norm and be able to sustain ourselves mentally, physically, and spiritually. I think we have to define for ourselves what has meaning and what makes us happy,” Lamoreaux says. She advises using technology as a way to connect with others.
Wright suggests trying the Ohio Department of Mental Health’s Strive for Five Challenge. “The idea is that you try to make sure you’re connecting with at least five people a day in a positive way,” she says. “I love this because staying connected with people is very important. While we’re discovering more positive aspects of technology, I think we’re going to have to grapple with staying connected with real human beings.”
Although the pandemic has posed numerous challenges for individuals and businesses, both Lamoreaux and Wright share their gratitude for the usage of telehealth, which offers individuals innovative opportunities to receive care and support.
“It’s hard enough for some people to come into counseling for a face-to-face session, but at least there I can build a personal connection with the client,” Lamoreaux says. “So, I understand that telehealth may seem daunting, but I would encourage people to take a risk and seek the help they may need.” Kintsukuroi Counseling, for example, offers free 15-minute consultations to give clients a sampling of their services.
While GCBHS never closed its doors during Ohio’s lockdown, they have found ways to reconfigure their services to support clients via telephone or audiovisual platforms like Zoom. “It’s interesting because a silver lining here is that some folks we serve, especially ones with agoraphobia, are telling us that they’re much more comfortable receiving services remotely,” Wright says.
As both Lamoreaux and Wright shared, every individual is different in their needs, desires, and priorities. Throughout this pandemic especially, we need to be understanding of one another and make an effort to stay connected.