Crisis taking toll on mental health

Monday, March 23, 2020

Area providers cite concerns, offer help in challenging times

The ongoing limitations placed on individuals and businesses as a result of social distancing requirements associated with the spread of coronavirus is taking its toll on both individuals and the agencies charged with providing care to those suffering from any number of mental health conditions.

“As Americans, we are not used to being unable to go and do what we want to do, when we want to do it,” said Amy Ondler, a social worker with the Champion State of Mind Spencer office. “This perspective is both humbling and hindering to us as individuals. During the time of social distancing we are challenged to look to those around us for support and comfort, as well as within ourselves to determine what we can learn from this experience. There are so many components of the COVID-19 pandemic which are outside of our control, we have to stop and remind ourselves to focus only on what is inside of our control. What can we do during this pandemic to help ourselves, our neighbors, our loved ones, and all of those around us? This is a time to come together, as America truly is all in this together.”

Seasons Center, based in Spencer, operates 13 sites and serves clients from 19 northwest Iowa counties. Director Kim Scorza said the worldwide pandemic is beginning to take its toll.

“We started to see an increase a few weeks ago when it was first being reported,” Scorza said. “Just in the last few days calls to our crisis line have more than doubled.”

Amanda Olson, founder, CEO and mental health therapist with Champion State of Mind, said they are facing the challenge both professionally and personally.

“There is an uncertainty to things that we as a nation have never experienced before,” Olson said. “People are fearful for their health, and their livelihoods, and while the anxiety people are experiencing now is not limited to the pandemic as a cause it is a large factor.”

Scorza indicated people are fearful and anxious regarding what the virus may mean to them and their family.

“We are providing supportive care and if needed our mobile crisis team will be deployed to meet the person in their physical location,” Scorza said. “Our mobile crisis team has taken additional safety measures for their face-to-face mobile response calls to ensure the physical safety of themselves, the client and law enforcement, should law enforcement need to be present.”

The physical offices are currently closed to the public and services are being offered by Telehealth and over the phone, part of the changes which began at the centers last week. All of the therapy, psychiatry, care coordination and nursing is now being facilitated in that fashion.

Likewise, Champion State of Mind, with offices in Estherville, Spirit Lake, Rock Valley, Sioux Center and Orange City, in addition to Spencer, has transitioned most of their clients to Telehealth services as well with providers and clients participating from their own homes. There are a couple of our providers with CSOM who continue to see clients in-person, on a case-by-case basis, but it is rare.

All Those Yesterdays, operating out of the Grand Avenue Community Outreach in Spencer is also moving to the Telehealth model as provider Ryan Jensen, a type 1 diabetic, seeks to continue working with clients.

“Staying connected is vital for people working through disorders as support and having relationships,” he said. “With technology now we are able to be mostly anywhere if we have have smartphones and my clients can continue to have eye to eye contact via Telehealth or just use phone calls.”

Impact on day-to-day routine and human connection which people receive engaged in through work and school can trigger a variety of emotions and responses.

“Change in routine is more difficult for some, some people are more wired to take it in stride than others,” Olson said. “Individuals thrown out of their routine may find themselves isolating, distant, angry, anxious, stressed and feeling ungrounded. Some groups that are likely to find it the most difficult are the students who are missing school right now. As we have seen school provide not only structure and routine for students but also meals, social support, connection with peers and adults and most importantly a safe consistent place to go each day.

She continued, “Parents and family, too, now are finding themselves at home with their kids every day, all day, with very little outlet may feel stressed, anxious or depressed. It can be difficult to manage all the things that come along with parenting, then add an unexpected long-term school closure into the mix and that can be downright difficult. As well, individuals who have recently lost their jobs may find it harder to build their routine. Not only would finances be an issue, but loss of health insurance may also be a concern.”

“Anytime there are stressors in people’s lives the person’s mental health can be impacted,” Scorza said. “The most important thing we are doing at Seasons’ is utilizing an ‘all hands on deck’ approach.

She continued, “That is, we recognize that when people experience an increase in mental health symptoms we see things like an increase in substance abuse. Therefore, we have all of our therapists, substance abuse counselors and care coordinators making frequent contact with as many of our clients as possible even in some cases during nights and weekends.”

Jensen noted concern about access to care for those who need inpatient treatment for the mental health or addiction challenges, citing the closure of the inpatient unit at Prairie Ridge in Mason City for 30 to 35 days after five confirmed COVID-19 cases in Cerro Gordo County.

The All Those Yesterday counselor stressed, “We can't get people into residential care easily right now. I refer many clients to this facility if they need it. It could mean people continue severe using and drinking until being able to get in. Suicides and deaths may occur from this alone.”

Therapists suggested a variety of means designed to deal with the isolation associated with social distancing and self-quarantine.

“We are encouraging clients to talk with family and friends via electronic means, as long as they are mentally healthy people to engage with and not someone who will bring the client down further,” Scorza suggested. She added coloring, word games, puzzles, card games, healthy cooking or basically any activities to distract a person from thinking about this pandemic.

The Seasons Center director added, “We know that exercise is very important for overall health and wellness so we are encouraging people to get outside for walks, runs, yoga in-doors and other means while practicing social distance. We are also reminding people that we are mind, body and soul so that taking time to mediate and pray to calm the mind and center the body is critical. It really is customized to each client as one size doesn’t fit all but that said we are also encouraging people not to sit in front of the TV or stay in bed all the time.”

Olson encouraged, “Think outside the box in connecting with others. There are many great ideas for doing this on Facebook, Pinterest and other social media sites. Reach out to your neighbors, friends and family. Just a simple call or text to say you are thinking of them can mean so much. Look for ways we don't use much anymore but that were the go-to for centuries to communicate such as letter writing, kids especially love getting mail. Send cards, letters, pictures to your local nursing homes.”

For more information, resources and counseling services Seasons Center can be reached at 1-800-242-5101, All Those Yesterdays can be reached at 712-580-4732 and Champion State of Mind can be contacted at 1-800-592-0180.

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