Greetings, I hope this information finds you to be in the best of health as we all find ourselves continually challenged by the COVID-19 virus. Now one year into the pandemic, we had to make some major lifestyle adjustments to stay safe such as testing, wearing a mask in public, social distancing, and extra hand washing. It has been six months since the first blog on Good Mental Health and COVID-19 in October 2020.
Currently, we have available three approved COVID-19 vaccines for emergency use – Pfizer, Moderna since December 2020, and recently, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which is a one-shot dose. As of date, according to Health News from NPR, “Since COVID-19 vaccine distribution began in the United States on December 14, 2020; more than 150 million doses have been administered, fully vaccinating over 54.4 million people or 16.4% of the total U.S. population.”
For people 16 and older with a disability or medical condition that place them at higher risk from COVID-19, “eligibility will begin March 22, 2021, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services announced Friday. The state had previously said that only residents 50 or older, regardless of health issues, were eligible beginning March.”
In Michigan, eligibility has now been extended to those persons ages 16 and older to start receiving their vaccinations on Monday, April 5, 2021. The Michigan Health Watch announced that “All Michiganders 16 and older, regardless of health status, will be eligible for a COVID vaccine beginning April 5, 2021.”
We are seeing some progress and the coronavirus can be seen in the rearview, but we still have a ways to go to fully contain the virus that has impacted our lives causing us all to make the necessary adjustments for safety reasons. Wearing a mask is not only to protect you but others. Social distancing from our loved ones is a difficult task but is needed to keep us all safe. The Governor’s orders are slowly lifting due to more and more persons having received their vaccines.
From a mental health perspective, this pandemic has taken its toll on us, our elderly population, adults, children, and youth. We as mental health professionals have assessed and diagnosed more cases of generalized anxiety, separation anxiety in children, depression, and suicidal ideation, in the last year than in the past five to ten years. Some of our Clients experienced panic attacks (watching the News all day), loneliness and isolation, trauma, multiple grief and loss, and dysphoria.
In working with some of my Clients I had them focus more on a sense of normalcy during these challenging times. They engaged in anxiety-reducing techniques such as breathing, low to moderate exercises, e.g., walking, working in their gardens, low to moderate stretches, watching a fun video, board games, and staying in contact with loved ones via the telephone or face time. Limiting the amount of News that they watch; only watching one news broadcast to stay informed, e.g., at 5:00 p.m. rather than watching at noon, 4:00 p.m., 5:00 p.m., 6:00 p.m., and 11:00 p.m. The News will repeat its stories as depressing as it is. Also suggested was to limit the time on the computer, taking frequent breaks to relax the eyes by looking far away and to move around a little, especially our children.
Treat yourself to your favorite healthy food. One of my teenage Clients shared her favorite treat is eating “soy ice cream.” This made me smile!
Children are innately wire to interact with others, run, touch, play, and socialize with their friends and classmates. Having to sit down for six hours each day for virtual learning has caused social anxiety, fatigue, frustration, and anger. Recently, my daughter shared that my ten-year-old grandson, Curtis, said emotionally, “I hate school.” He, just like other children, became frustrated with online learning and having absolutely no social interaction, for over a year, with the other students. No riding on the school bus and looking out for his street and house.
Over the past six months, I have seen in some of my Clients, an increase in symptoms of anxiety, anger, depression, self-harm, and having no hope. Clients needed to be referred to a higher level of care from out-patient to in-patient hospitalization. When younger school-age Clients de-compensate and grow increasingly apathetic, frustrated, and weary with virtual learning and “looking at the computer” engaging in the therapeutic process can possibly assist them with developing coping strategies that can help them manage their symptoms better. I can empathize with parents, children, their teachers, and school boards that say that this was a very necessary and needed adjustment in the way schoolwork had to be taught, virtually, to keep our students safe, but at what cost?
As stated earlier, the eligibility for the COVID-19 vaccination now includes persons ages 16 and older, effective April 5, 2021. Parents, our goal is striving for “community immunity” where everyone has the opportunity to combat this virus and allow our lives to return to some sense of normalcy. We have, for far too long, experienced overwhelming grief and loss of our beloved family members, friends, and others in the community they served, in the last 12 months. Let the healing begin! It starts with us doing our part to get vaccinated, “continue to wear a mask in public, social distancing, and hand washing” to keep this dangerous virus under control.
Parents, in these difficult times, please observe your child’s behavior and not minimize what you see, but be proactive to have them assessed immediately by a mental health professional by calling the facility or via the E.R., as soon as it raises your concern that something is not right or strangely different with your child’s behavior. According to Dr. Gregory L. Jantz, he writes in his book, Seven Answers for Anxiety, that “Anxiety is defined as ‘painful or apprehensive uneasiness of the mind usually over an impending or anticipated ill; fearful concern or interest; an abnormal or overwhelming sense of apprehension and fear often marked by physiological signs (as sweating, tension, and increased pulse rate). A recent news report stated that there is “a rise in substance abuse and overdose cases.” Risk-taking behaviors will only exacerbate one’s symptoms and situation.
Depression can be defined as an invariable feeling of sadness and loss of interest, which stops you from doing your normal activities. Generally, depression may result from a single event or from a mix of events and factors. According to the Mayo Clinic, depression is “More than just a bout of the blues; isn’t a weakness and you can’t simply “snap out” of it. Depression may require long-term treatment. But don’t get discouraged. Most people diagnosed with depression may begin to feel better with medication, psychotherapy or both.”
Signs and symptoms of suicide can be hidden right before our eyes. According to WebMD, some symptoms may include:
- Severe sadness or moodiness.
- Hopelessness. Sleep problems.
- Sudden calmness. Made a decision to end their life.
- Changes in personality or appearance.
- Dangerous or self-harmful behavior.
- Recent trauma or life crisis.
- Making preparations.
- Threatening or talking about suicide. From 50% to 75% of those considering suicide will give someone — a friend or relative — a warning sign. It may not be an outright threat. They may talk an unusual amount about death or say things like “It would be better if I wasn’t here.” However, not everyone who is considering suicide will say so, and not everyone who threatens suicide will follow through with it. Every threat of suicide should be taken seriously.
Soon, we will be able to look into the rearview and remember all that we have gone through, lost and learned, but have come out victorious! We listened to the science, did our part to stay safe, and kept our family, especially the children, youth, and the elderly, supervised and safe. Although more people who have contracted the coronavirus have survived, sadly, too many have passed away. Continue to do what each of us can to stop the spread of the virus. Talk to your family members and offer them hope to reduce their fears, anxiety, and elevate mood – that we can contain the virus just by doing our part to stay well and safe, physically and mentally!
We, the mental health professionals, stand ready and available to serve your emotional and psychological needs to promote mental wellness. We will get through this together!
Please make the call!
Resources for Mental Health Intervention and other Basic Needs:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: (800) 273-8255
Domestic Violence: (800) 799- SAFE (7233)
Substance/Alcohol Abuse Treatment: (800) 854-6025 or (844) 998-1907
Homelessness: (800) – Shelter or (800) 743-5837
Women Shelter: 24-hour hotline: (412) 687-8005
Food/Hunger Relief: (800) 538-5381
Unemployment Insurance – Michigan: (866) 500-0017
Refresh Mental Health – Perspectives of Troy Counseling: (248) 244-8644
Dr. Ruby J. Bowens, LMSW
Clinical Social Worker/Christian Counselor
Perspectives of Troy Counseling Centers