Help coping is readily available

Monday, April 6, 2020
Positive reinforcement like rainbow drawings posted on the Shelbyville Rainbow Hunt group on Facebook gives a positive outlook to a community potentially facing a serious pandemic.
Submitted photo

Do you currently feel during the coronavirus pandemic like the walls in your home are closing in on you? Are family issues coming from the next room causing you to question your mental stability?

Possibly worse, Gov. Bill Lee cited his concerns during a press conference Tuesday over eight suicides in Knox County in one day. So concerned with the mental affects of the COVID-19 pandemic, he referred to Executive Order 20, which expanded what is known as tele-health capabilities for providers.

A behavioral health safety net is also available to assist Tennesseans 18 and older at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty level and the uninsured with no means to pay.

Mental health checklist

The coronavirus pandemic, which has forced many into long-term cohabitation, has no doubt heightened stress and anxiety of everyday living to new levels.

In fact, some people may be feeling so much stress that they need to talk with a professional to help them cope, which is perfectly acceptable, according to local mental health professionals.

“We know that many people experience stress and anxiety when there is a crisis,” said Centerstone Vice President of Crisis and Disaster Management Becky Stoll. “If you or someone you know are showing signs of stress or anxiety, there [are] a few things you can do.”

Stoll suggests helping the person suffering to limit any oversaturation from media outlets. That is, avoid watching 24 continuous hours of televised coronavirus pandemic coverage.

A break in between TV news spots will give the person with anxiety more time to focus on keeping themselves healthy, which she says is easily done through exercise, eating right, getting enough sleep and spending quality time with loved ones.

Stroll added that clinicians are available to help anyone who may be experiencing stress, anxiety, depression or another mental health condition. The local Centerstone office is located at 604 South Wall Street, where counselors can be reached by calling 684-0522.

“And we will continue to provide these services during the current crisis.”

A ‘disaster-tunity’

Dr. Tracy Hall, a licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT) with AGAPE services, counsels with married couples, particularly those right now in forced cohabitation. The Shelbyville location is 101 Dow Drive and counselors can be reached by calling 680-0555.

Despite there being a pandemic, the counselor advises couples should look at the current world situation from a mental health perspective, that is, as a “disaster-tunity.”

“In a normal, healthy marriage, all those levels of interaction take place,” said Hall. “Just don’t neglect the more intimate end of the continuum. It’s very easy to spend most of our time together, but not really interacting.”

With that in mind, Hall suggests couples each write a list of activities they enjoy-things perhaps they use to enjoy together but stopped for some reason. In addition, couples should list things they know they like to do and new ideas which seem like they’d be fun.

“Next step, share your lists with each other. You may find you both wrote down hiking - that goes on the master list. Maybe your spouse wrote down something you’d never consider but think would be fun. You’ll end up with a list of go-to items so that you don’t have to think of something in the moment, just consult the list.”

Hall advises that couples use counseling suggestions long after the coronavirus is history.

NAMI Assistance

The National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) advises anyone unsure about attending therapy sessions outside the home, especially those who the Centers for Disease Control has described as being at higher risk, seek out from their health care provider services such as tele-therapy, as recommended by the governor, or mental health services online.

Hall maintains couples can use counseling suggestions long after the coronavirus is history.

For anyone who is worried about access to prescribed medications, ask your health care provider about getting 90-day supplies. If this is not possible, NAMI encourages you to refill your medications as soon as they are allowed.

Most of all, the alliance strongly advises patients to listen to and follow their local public health care provider expectations.

Mental health issues no doubt could get worse in the coming weeks. That is until the coronavirus is eradicated.

Mental health checkup?

Tom Starling, president and chief executive officer of the nonprofit Mental Health America (formerly Mental Health Association of Middle Tennessee) said his clinic has noticed a recent uptick in its screenings on anxiety and even trauma.

“Many Tennesseans are questioning if they are ‘worried well’ or if they actually have clinical anxiety from COVID-19,” said Starling. “Mental health concerns will persist after COVID-19 is eradicated and after the physical crisis ends.”

Starling said for the general public, the mental health effects of COVID-19 are as important to address as are the physical health effects.

“For the one in five Tennesseans who already have mental health conditions, we need to take personal, professional, and policy measures now to address these real symptoms and conditions.”

Starling said individuals experiencing “forced” isolation should: 1. use their smart phone to stay connected to family and friends 2. shift from texting to voice or video calling to feel more connected. 3. remain comfortable, doing more of the enjoyable.

Less stress

In addition, Starling recommends that couples practice stress relief whenever possible. That relief can be achieved through deep breathing, yoga, exercise, reading, gardening or eating some ice cream – whatever works, the counselor said.

“Abstain from anything you consider to be unhealthy for you such as excess drinking, which will increase your anxiety afterwards.”

His best advice for good mental health is for residents to keep looking forward. He also suggests making activity plans for six months down the road.

Professionals and clinical entities who interact with both ill and well people should screen all patients for anxiety at both sick- and well-care visits, Starling said.

He added, clinics should strive to take extra time with patients to determine the immediateness of their mental health concern.

“If left untreated, the mental health effects could last for weeks or months and return unexpectedly. This virus will likely ebb in time, and MHA is confident that everything will become physically normal in a few weeks or months – even for most who get COVID-19. However, the mental effects will linger for those who lose loved ones and for those whose anxiety, post-traumatic stress, and other serious conditions are left untreated. There is no health without mental health.”

Mental Health America of the MidSouth is a 74-year-old nonprofit agency based in Nashville with statewide staff across Tennessee. Its programs focus on suicide prevention, Alzheimer’s support, anti-bullying in schools, workplace wellness, community education, screenings, and referrals. Staff can be reached at (615) 269-5355 or at