COVID-19 toll on mental health expected to rise

A mural on the side of the Cowlitz Chaplaincy building in Longview, Wash., reads "YOU MATTER."

LONGVIEW, Wash. — Crisis counselors say the COVID-19 pandemic comes up during almost every call to the Columbia Wellness crisis line — a recurring sign of the ongoing effects of the outbreak on callers’ mental health.

“The general consensus is, we’re done with it,” said Drew McDaniel, clinical director of the crisis unit. “Everyone wants to go back to some form of a normal life and they’re really struggling because this has changed normal life as we know it.”

“One of the things that’s so frustrating is when you truly want something and can’t make it go away, it wears on you,” he said.

Behavioral health effects — including depression, anxiety and acute stress — that are already on the rise across the state because of the pandemic are expected to peak throughout the remainder of 2020, according to the state Department of Health. Approximately 3 million Washingtonians will experience “clinically significant” symptoms of acute stress, anxiety or depression over the next two to five months, according to a state report.

Cowlitz County mental health service providers, including Columbia Wellness, have already seen a rise in calls and clients dealing with depression, anxiety and substance abuse.

“No one asks to have a mental health disorder,” McDaniel said. “So when you’re already suffering from something you don’t want to have and now have to deal with the virus and the pandemic, it complicates it all together.”

Core Health has also seen an increase in depression, anxiety and drug use among clients, said Frank Morrison, director.

The organization saw a decrease in new clients and participation in chemical dependency treatment programs as it shifted to online and telephone services but numbers are increasing again, Morrison said. Core anticipates the demand for services to continue through the winter and may have to hire staff to accommodate that, he said.

Regardless of the pandemic, seasonal affective disorder — depression that occurs the same time every year — and winter holidays typically worsen mental health challenges in the fall and winter, according to the state Department of Health.

The highest risk of suicide in Washington will likely occur between October and December, according to the department.

Vigilance of suicide warning signs is especially important this year because of the increased stress, anxiety and depression from the pandemic, according to the state Department of Health. The state encourages residents to help prevent suicide by looking out for signs, empathizing and listening, asking directly about suicide, removing the dangers and talking about next steps.

Morrison said help is available in the Longview-Kelso area for those who need it, and it’s important to “hold onto hope and reach out.”

Coping strategies that involve as many of the senses as possible are more effective, McDaniel said.

For example, combining deep breathing with visualization and music is better to combat negative feelings than doing just one strategy, he said. People may need to create different coping strategies for different environments, such as home and work, McDaniel said.

McDaniel also encouraged people to reach out to a doctor or counselor if needed. A support system including multiple people to turn to is better than having just one or two, he said.

“We all know we weather storms better with people by our side,” he said. “Do things that are enjoyable, bring you a sense of happiness again, and that bring a sense of self direction back to your life.”

TNS

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