“You are not alone” | Effect of pandemic on mental health for adults, kids

Local Coronavirus Coverage

TRI-CITIES, Tenn. (WJHL) In responding to a health crisis like the coronavirus outbreak, some agencies fear another crisis emerging now is being overlooked: this time, in mental health.

May marks National Mental Health Awareness Month, which is more timely than ever as we are still dealing with the stress of the pandemic.

So, in a time we are focussing so much on physical health like hand washing, wearing masks and social distancing; what if we put that much effort into mental health?

“There are all these different changes going on and a lot of times it makes people feel like their life is not in their control. A lot of times that can have a negative impact on your mental health,” says Emily Wells, Northeast Regional Coordinator for the Mental Health Association of East Tennessee.

Wells says the organization has seen early a 50 percent increase in people reaching out for help and taking their online mental health screenings.

“Mental illnesses are treatable and diagnosable. If somebody is struggling with symptoms of a mental illness, they need to know there is help out there,” says Wells. “Don’t think that this is a permanent thing, don’t think you are stuck in this forever. “

When you factor in things like the economic downturn, people losing their jobs, and an unknown future, the National Institute of Mental Health says it could potentially lead to an increase in suicide across the country.

“Tennessee does have a higher rate of suicide per 100,000 than the nation as a whole, so we have a higher rate than the national average,” says Molly Colley with the Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network.

The network says it is more important now than ever to put a spotlight on mental health, for those you love and for yourself.

“There is hope even if you can’t see it right now, you are not alone in this, there are people out there who can help and there is help available to you,” says Colley.

It is not just adults being affected by the outbreak.

“Be mindful that this pandemic, as stressful as it was on adults, is also stressful on the children,” says Dr. Tim Perry, Senior Vice President of Children’s Services at Frontier Health.

Dr. Perry says the pandemic is something that can have a detrimental effect on the mental health of children and teenagers.

“Routine gives a child a sense of structure, security, a sense of normalcy and direction. When that is disrupted, it leads to confusion, loss and even insecurity,” says Perry.

Of course, one of the biggest losses of structure: not being able to go to school.

“Social support is part of the coping process, especially for kids. The support of teachers, coaches and peers gives them that structure of being able to deal with problems and cope with problems,” says Perry.

That is why he says it is so important to check in with your kids. It is normal for them to feel anxious and even a bit depressed at times. But if it is lasting for days and weeks on end and affecting their daily lives, his message to parents is this: act now, not later.

“Watch them, check in with them, ask them frequently, ‘how are you doing.’ If there starts to be signs that the child is struggling with that, talk with them about the struggles, be patient, be empathetic. Be supportive, and at the same time structured,” says Dr. Perry. “If those symptoms continue do not hesitate to reach out to someone for some professional help and guidance.”

These mental health advocates want you to know that you are not alone in your fight against mental illness. Help is available to you, and people are ready to step in.

Links to mental health resources:

  • Frontier Health 24/7 crisis hotline
  • Frontier Health Turning Point facility
  • Mental Health Association of East Tennessee call center
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
  • Tennessee crisis line: 1-855-CRISIS-1 / 1-855-274-7471
  • Ballad Health respond hotline: 800-366-1132

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