Local resources available for those suffering from mental health strain

COVID-19 leads to increases in mental health disorders

By: Brendan Losinski | C&G Newspapers | Published January 10, 2021

 Local resources available for those suffering from mental health strain

Local resources available for those suffering from mental health strain

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METRO DETROIT — While the physical effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are readily visible, there are other issues that can fly below the radar and affect people in many unseen ways.

Mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety have been on the rise in the last year, according to experts, and the pandemic is largely responsible.

MaryJo Harris, the community organizer for CARE of Southeast Michigan, said she has seen the far-reaching effects that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on people.

“The COVID pandemic is something none of us have experienced before, which is why it is very stressful,” she said. “There have been so many unknowns the past year, and so many canceled events and plans. This had led to a sense of a lack of control and increased stress for people. The lockdown had been a major event that completely changed our normal routines and way of life. An increased state of stress, fear about the unknown and anxiety can exacerbate preexisting conditions.”

“Due to the pandemic, there has been an increase in individuals feeling anxious, depressed and hopeless,” added Andrea Smith, the director of workforce training and program development for the Detroit Wayne Integrated Health Network. “A number of individuals reaching out for support are concerned about school, work, and social and emotional well-being. Oftentimes, school or work is the place of gathering and provides a sense of connectedness. A lot of people are missing the face-to-face interaction and just don’t know what to do.”

Harris added that while COVID-19 is far from the only cause for increases in conditions such as depression and anxiety, it has had a bigger impact on people than many can see.

“There has been an increase in the rates of mental health disorders in symptoms the past year. In looking at the data provided by the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) in June of 2020, anxiety disorder symptoms increased by a factor of three from 2019 to 2020, and depressive disorder rates increased by a factor of four. There are so many things to be accounted for when looking at this data,” Harris said. “It is difficult to attribute an increase in mental health disorders and symptoms to one single cause, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. This increase in depression, anxiety, stress, etc. is due to an accumulation of factors, one of which is the pandemic. Isolation is one of the effects of the pandemic, and we know that it is imperative for our mental health that we have social interaction with others. The pandemic can be likened to a traumatic event. Trauma can often lead to symptoms of mental health disorders.”

She added that teens have frequently faced some of the biggest changes as a result of the pandemic.

“For teens specifically, they are spending a lot more time in front of a screen and not socializing with their peers,” said Harris. “We know that screen time impacts sleep behavior, which leads to a multitude of physical and mental health difficulties. Resilience is now needed more than ever for our kids. It can be hard for a child to see all of their favorite activities being canceled, as well as not be able to go to school and see peers.”

Smith said COVID has been so hard on many people because it meant a loss of control over various aspects of people’s lives such as health, financial security or recreation.

“COVID-19 has been one of the things that is out of our control,” she explained. “We can attempt to protect ourselves by following CDC guidelines and recommendations, but doing so means that we are restricted from what would have been typical activities. In some ways COVID has taken away the ability for some folks to thrive. It has created wedges between people and their sense of normalcy. This is difficult because it came so suddenly and we cannot determine on our own time when it goes away.”

Some of the best steps to counter stress and anxiety is normal relaxation and coping tools such as exercise, rest or simply going outside.

“One of the (Healthy Grosse Pointe/Harper Woods Coalition’s) initiatives this coming year is encouraging people to get outside.  There is something very simple that we can do every day to improve our mental health and immune system, reduce our stress, and improve our mood: spending time outdoors and in nature,” said Harris. “According to many different research studies, being outside can help you manage stress and boost your happiness and gets you moving. Even when you are busy, making it a priority to spend at least 20 minutes outside every day is one of the most beneficial things we can do for our overall health and well-being.”

More information on the Healthy Grosse Pointe/Harper Woods Coalition can be found at www.healthygphw.org.

For those dealing with more than minor stress and anxiety, there are professional options available that can be helpful. Harris listed several resources that those in Wayne and Macomb counties can look to for potential assistance if they are struggling with mental health conditions. This includes the Family Center of Grosse Pointe/Harper Woods, which provides access to local therapists and practitioners, organizations and businesses that support individuals and families as well as helpful articles, videos, podcasts and other resources on critical topics and issues facing parents today. More information is available at www.familycenterweb.org.

Additionally, there is Kevin’s Song, which is a suicide prevention organization that can be reached at www.kevinssong.org. The Beaumont Community Resource Network also makes it easy to find programs and community resources to help people with essential needs. Local facilities and resources can be found by going to www.community resource.beaumont.org.

The Detroit Wayne Integrated Health Network’s 24-hour helpline can be reached at  (800) 241-4949. Their services include help for those with serious mental illnesses, children with serious emotional disturbances, people with autism, individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and those with substance use disorder.

“In addition to Detroit Wayne Integrated Health Network and our network of behavioral health providers, we have launched a service to help those specifically struggling to cope with COVID-19,” said Smith. “The Detroit Virtual Therapy Collaborative: Reach Us Detroit offers therapy via text, talk or video around the clock. This is a free service regardless of the ability to pay.”

Harris and Smith also both recommended the MyStrength app, which is a highly interactive, individually tailored application that empowers users to address depression, anxiety, stress, substance use, chronic pain and sleep challenges, while also supporting the physical and spiritual aspects of whole-person health.

Both want people to know that it is normal to suffer mentally during times of stress or uncertainty and that assistance is out there for people who are having difficulty.

“To say these are stressful times for most of us is an understatement,” remarked Harris. “There are many free and available resources for those of us needing more mental health guidance during this incredibly difficult time. It is important that, as a community, we check on each other and are mindful of and sensitive to each other’s mental health needs.”

“It is OK to not be OK,” added Smith. “If you feel yourself sinking into a space that you do not want to be in, reach out. You don’t have to struggle; there are people available to help. It’s important to know that you are not the only one feeling this way. Seeking help is fine, and recovery is possible.”