COVID-19’s impact on the economy, schools and other aspects of daily life in Indiana can’t yet be quantified. Compounded with the strain of layoffs, closed businesses and children at home, Hoosiers are feeling emotional strain.
“There’s a general, overarching theme of uncertainty,” said Carrie Cadwell, a psychologist and CEO of the Four County Counseling Center in Logansport. “That just raises the bar on anxiety, even for somebody who hasn’t experienced a behavioral health disorder.”
Four County caters to Hoosiers in North Central Indiana as one of the state’s community mental health centers with an in-patient psychiatric unit and anonymous crisis counseling.
Mental health professionals must provide support and mitigate concerns, even when they don’t have the answers, while also suggesting coping strategies, according to Cadwell.
“Communication is just so huge – whether that’s via social media [or not],” she said. “It’s really creating different sorts of channels of communications for our patients and then being able to be with them and support them – and our staff – during a time of uncertainty.”
Mental health providers, such as community health centers, are open and providing services, Cadwell noted.
“Many hospitals are having to think though things like visitor restriction, essential versus non-essential personnel, communicating to anybody coming in for visits. … In the case of a community mental health center, we also make home visits,” Cadwell said.
She added that community centers have to plan for ways to ensure the continuity of care, whether by phone or through tele-services, such as video chats.
Jacek Kolacz of the Indiana University Kinsey Institute studies the impact of life experience on psychological well-being over time, focusing on traumatic stress research. He says the long-term impacts of COVID-19 on society’s emotional health are unknown.
“However, those who have gone through traumatic experiences in the past or those who have PTSD, anxiety or depression may be more at risk for stronger symptoms during the pandemic,” Kolacz explained.
But he stressed that “it’s likely that many people will not experience any long-term problems,” while noting that unpredictable and uncontrollable situations can increase reactions such as vigilance, disrupted sleep or racing thoughts.
“These types of reactions are a normal way that the brain and body prepare for perceived threats, even if we are not in immediate danger,” Kolacz said. “Traumatic experiences prolong these brain and body responses after the threat has gone.”
Taking the time to manage stress can reduce these problems, which can include insomnia, in the long run, according to Kolacz.
Mental health care
Self-quarantining can be stressful, and Cadwell, the psychologist, suggests focusing during the COVID-19 crisis on things that can be done — rather than what can’t be done. Taking a walk or talking to someone can ease feelings of social isolation and anxiety.
The Indiana Family and Social Services Administration shares information from the Indiana Department of Health concerning the coronavirus, including a web page dedicated to mental health professionals.
FSSA, along with the American Red Cross, will offer specialized Psychological First Aid webinars to mental health professionals in the coming weeks.
The state health department recommends promoting education for patients, including handwashing hygiene and coronavirus information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The department cautions against misinformation spread on social media and suggests limiting exposure to the news, as “excess media exposure to coverage of stressful events can result in negative mental health outcomes.”
Kolacz suggested checking the news on a fixed schedule or disabling notifications to avoid feeling overwhelmed.
For mental health providers and Hoosiers alike, FSSA urges taking care of yourself by making sure your needs are met, maintaining a healthy diet, exercising and engaging in hobbies.
“If you’re feeling stressed, if you’re not sure where to turn or you’re looking for resources, there should be no hesitation in reaching out,” Cadwell said.
Centers like Four County operate 24/7 and can help Hoosiers navigate other potentially stressful processes, such as applying for unemployment benefits or transportation assistance.
“People just need to know: pick up the phone. Don’t hesitate and ask somebody for help,” Cadwell said.
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