In order to slow the spread of the coronavirus, people all over the globe are in isolation, confined to their homes and minds, which can pose a serious threat to mental health.
“If there’s already an ongoing issue, say they’re depressed or anxious, the pandemic can make it worse,” said Margie VanCleave, a licensed professional counselor at Brazoria County Counseling Center.
While social distancing is considered critical to slowing the spread, it can also lead to loneliness, which can be a trigger for depression, Lake Jackson psychiatrist Kenneth Osiezagha said. Obsession with disease prevention and sanitizing could also be a trigger for someone with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, he said.
Even without an ongoing issue, people who have been quarantined could experience traumatic stress, which can lead to a host of mental disorders, Osiezagha said. Those include adjustment disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, acute stress disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder, he said.
For those who have not been quarantined, the pandemic still poses a threat to their mental health.
“A sizable number of patients did express exacerbation of symptoms due to extreme stress that is directly or indirectly relating to COVID-19,” Osiezagha said.
A more indirect stressor might be the effect the pandemic is having on the economy. Loss of work or income causes monetary concerns.
“Financial stress is very big right now, especially if you don’t have what you need because you don’t have the money coming in,” VanCleave said. “Parents might need help with their children because they’re working.”
In order to reduce extra stress and protect mental health, VanCleave recommends taking things one day at a time.
“I’ve suggested watching how much of the news people watch, certainly with children,” VanCleave said. “People should go on with daily life as much as possible, do activities you can while following CDC guidelines.”
The Brazoria County Counseling Center is doing their part to follow the CDC guidelines of social distancing and the Stay Safe at Home order from the county by moving all sessions online.
“We give online sessions through Telemed, which has become quite popular,” VanCleave said. “You can actually see the person, like Skyping. We use a program called doxy.me; it’s HIPAA approved and it’s confidential.”
Osiezagha’s office has also moved to telemedicine evaluations and phone interviews for those who don’t have internet access, he said. This way, continuity of care is ensured while following CDC recommendations, he said.
Even working from home, the counselors have been very busy, VanCleave said.
“With this virus people are anxious,” she said.
VanCleave encourages residents to reach out to family and friends, especially those who might struggle with being isolated.
“People need to continue to reach out to others, with phones or Skype,” VanCleave said. “It can prevent them from feeling isolated and alone, especially at risk populations, such as senior citizens who live alone.”
She also recommends that people reach out to a medical professional if they feel they need help.
One resource available for people who need it is the National Alliance on Mental Illness, located in Alvin. NAMI counselors are working remotely to offer support and resources, according to a statement. Their helpline number, 281-585-3100, is available from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
The Brazoria County Counseling Center can be reached at bccounselingcenter.org.
“I would call doctors of medical professionals if you feel the need, especially if you notice you’re becoming more depressed or more anxious,” VanCleave said. “If you don’t address it could get worse, they are very real illnesses.”