Mental health calls starting to come in from COVID-19

By ED HOWELL
Daily Mountain Eagle
ed.howell@mountaineagle.com
Posted 6/2/20

Shelly Jones, the executive director of the Northwest Alabama Mental Health Center, says the center is beginning to see an uptick in calls in the wake of the COVID-19 virus.

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Mental health calls starting to come in from COVID-19

Posted

Shelly Jones, the executive director of the Northwest Alabama Mental Health Center, says the center is beginning to see an uptick in calls in the wake of the COVID-19 virus.

The Washington Post reported last week a third of Americans are now showing signs of clinical anxiety or depression, according to Census Bureau data. 

"When asked questions normally used to screen patients for mental health problems, 24 percent showed clinically significant symptoms of major depressive disorder and 30 percent showed symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder," the Post said. "The findings suggest a huge jump from before the pandemic. For example, on one question about depressed mood, the percentage reporting such symptoms was double that found in a 2014 national survey." 

Now, 50 percent are experiencing a depressed mood over various periods, versus 25 percent in 2013-2014, the Post said.

The Census Bureau is holding emergency weekly surveys to measure the effective of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Jones said last week, "About the last two weeks I would say, my call center is reporting an increase in intakes, new admissions ... with reports of anxiety and depression, and some are contributing that to the coronavirus epidemic and the things that have come out as a result of that." 

Before that, she was not seeing as much, saying people were more fearful to get out. 

"As things are beginning to open back up and people are cautiously getting out, that started to come up. We haven't had a huge increase at this point, but we do as an agency anticipate that as things become more open and people are becoming more comfortable coming out again." 

She said the unemployment and financial issues that have come out of the pandemic, as well as the isolation and the change in routine and the concerns of what the world will be like, are also playing a role in affecting people's moods. They may also be worried about the safety of family members and friends. 

"It is a total change in our lives right now in how we are operating," she said. "So much is done remotely" versus in their usual office, leading to isolation. Children have also been confined to home without school or daycare.  

Jones also anticipates the "current environment" is going to lead to an increase of substance abuse issues," possibly providing triggers for potential relapses for those in recovery, ranging from opioids to alcohol. Groups like Alcoholics Anonymous have had to go to virtual meetings due to the isolation. 

"They are not getting the community support that goes along with that recovery typically," she said. 

Jones said that the center has been allowed to operate some therapy sessions by teleconferencing and telephone (as some internet service is not available to do teleconferencing). Medicaid and the Department of Mental Health is allowing community mental health officials to use those methods to reach more people, she said.

She said the center should be able to handle the increase, as many services have fallen off from people not coming. "As this point we can accomodate that," she said. 

Jones said additional funding may be needed to enlarge the system to reach more people, especially as many may not have insurance to deal with their needs, especially if they have lost their jobs. 

Those affected with stress can include "the entire population," she said. "It's affecting everybody," including healthcare workers who have been on the front lines. 

She advised the public to do some basic things to cope with the coronavirus.

"People need to take a break from the news," she said, before the weekend escalation of racial protests in the nation. "That becomes a very stressful situation for them." She urged getting enough sleep and keeping a good diet, as well as trying to stay connected while protecting themselves. 

"If you are feeling symptoms of depression and anxiety that is significantly affecting your life, or if you are feeling suicidal, you should reach out for help and get services," she said. 

One may call the center's office for services, either for adults or children, she said. "If they need to have a case opened, they will be redirected to our call center to take that information and get them an appointment to come in and receive services," she said. One may also call for a crisis, such as a suicide, and can arrange to talk to someone immediately, Jones said. 

The adult office can be reached at 302-9000 and the children's office is 302-9066, she said. The website for the center is www.nwamhc.com.