Social isolation is impacting our mental health and well being

A story from Kristie Elias and Kelly Murrell

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Four months into the Covid-19 pandemic and our nation is on the verge of another health crisis, a mental-health one. Tens of thousands of people dead, millions facing economic devastation, and continued isolation from the lockdown are taking a psychological toll on Americans. More than half of American adults (56%) report that the coronavirus pandemic is harming their mental health, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll.

The increase in the number of suicides, fatal drug overdoses and instances of domestic abuse have mental health experts concerned about the pandemic’s impact on people, especially the most vulnerable members of our community.

“COVID-19 has altered daily existence dramatically and it is a really hard time for everybody, but it is especially hard for people with preexisting behavioral health conditions and substance addictions,” said Kelly Murrell, Director of the Mental Health Clinic at Catholic Family Center. “The biggest issues for many are the uncertainty of the future and the lack of control people feel over what is going to happen next.”

This period of unprecedented uncertainty coupled with social distancing guidelines are leaving many people feeling alone. Some are isolating themselves out of fear of the spread of the virus. Others who are struggling emotionally aren’t seeking help due to the concern of potentially being exposed to the virus by leaving the house to meet with a health provider. Children aren’t able to easily talk to teachers to report problems at home, and abuse victims are often unable to call for help because they have been stuck in the same home as their abusers.

“Here at Catholic Family Center, we are seeing a 50% reduction in client intakes, so we know the people who are suffering are not getting the help they need and that is a major concern,” said Kristie Elias, LCSW, Vice President of Behavioral Heath at Catholic Family Center. “Our services are essential and we can still meet our clients’ needs face-to-face in a safe and social distanced manner, as well as provide virtual counseling through the telephone and video conferencing.”

One early indication that a problem is emerging is the number of suicides and attempts reported across the country. In April, the number of distress calls to the Disaster Distress Helpline, a federal crisis hotline, spiked 891% . If the high rate of unemployment persists, the death toll by suicide is expected to continue to rise.

Some other startling statistics and trends as a direct result of the coronavirus lockdown include: According to market research firm Nielsen, U.S. sales of alcoholic beverages rose 55% in the week ending March 21 and national day-drinking statistics continue to rise. “Zoom happy hours” have become the go-to social outlet for so many who want to stay connected with others. Alcohol can actually make anxiety and depression worse. For some, consuming alcohol will lead to addiction that will outlast the virus. Drinking is associated with domestic violence, which has been on the rise during this crisis.

Locally, Monroe County’s Heroin Task Force reported 61 opioid overdoses in April; 12 were fatal. That’s up 65 percent from a year ago.

The nation’s top behavioral health officials are now focused on a second wave of the coronavirus lockdown this fall that could pose grave risks to the nation’s mental health. They are encouraging self-care coping mechanisms that can be incorporated into American’s daily routine.

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Mental health experts recommend the following to self care tips that you can do in your home:

Have a routine that you practice every day such as waking up at the same time and getting dressed to begin your day.

Take care of your body. Exercise regularly. Eat well. Get a good night’s sleep.

Make sure you are not isolated socially. Because of these social distancing guidelines, a lot of people feel like they are alone. It is really important to maintain social connections. Check in on friends and family regularly.

Focus on the things you can control in your life

Set limits on the amount of newsworthy information you consume each day. Start by limiting how many times you seek out the news and identify the specific news outlets you retrieve information from.

Schedule some daily tasks or projects to mix up the day-to-day routine. For example, create a porch garden that you can take care of and watch grow.

Physical distancing measures have helped healthcare providers realize how effective telemedicine can be, and in most cases just as effective as in-person consultations.

“You don’t necessarily have to be face-to-face to make a difference in someone’s life,” added Elias. “We are seeing how effective treatment and medication-assisted therapy for co-occurring chemical dependencies and behavioral health illnesses can be administered and managed via tele-consultations and video group sessions.”

The pandemic may actually be assisting in reducing the stigma surrounding behavioral health conditions. More people are being open about how their lives are being affected by the worry and stress related to the pandemic. They are talking about mental health. They are talking about suicide prevention and this can save lives.

(Rochester, NY) Each year, Catholic Family Center provides support to thousands of families and individuals, including children, who may be struggling with mental health and behavioral health issues. If you or a family member is struggling with addiction, depression or behavioral health issues, we are here for you and easy to reach:

  • Intakes, assessments, and consultations can be done by phone.
  • Medication-assisted therapy is available
  • And so are housing, employment, and financial assistance referrals.

Just walk into Catholic Family Center at 87 N. Clinton Monday through Thursday or call 585-262–7000 for support to feel confident and safe again.

Catholic Family Center is the largest provider of family services in #ROC, addressing issues of need across all stages of life. See more: www.cfcrochester.org

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