Data on mental health collected over the next few years will eventually reveal the full picture of the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact.
Speaking to local business and community leaders, Kinnie Reina, the communication director for mental health care provider Burke, tackled the complex and often taboo topic of mental illness.
“Traumatic life events — such as a global pandemic or a hurricane — those are things that can make you more susceptible to mental illness,” Reina said during a Chamber of Commerce conference call held weekly since the pandemic began more than a year ago.
In the coming years, she says, data collected on mental health will bear out just how much of an impact the pandemic has had on mental health.
“Right now, Burke has stayed pretty level with services and some kind of lower with people not wanting to come in,” she said. “We do have televideo services available but some individuals may not feel comfortable with that.”
One in 5 adults experiences mental illness in a given year, she said, and 1 in 25 suffer from a serious mental illness such as major depression or schizophrenia.
The impact of the past year on an individual depends greatly on his or her resilience and ability to cope with changes. Regardless, she said, individual comfort levels should be respected.
“Some individuals may be excited we’re not wearing masks as much, and some may be hesitant,” she said.
Much like physical conditions, mental illness requiring treatment can exhibit warning signs. Sadness that lasts for weeks, talk of self harm or suicide, risk-taking behaviors, sudden overwhelming fear or significant weight gain or less are among these.
For those concerned about a friend or loved one, Reina said, “It’s OK to recognize that you may not know what to say or have the answers, and that’s where you would point to a place like Burke.”
Asking the person how you can help or offering to accompany him to a support group or other resource is also helpful.
“Being patient, being understanding and providing hope — that’s the biggest thing,” Reina said.
The National Suicide Hotline is 800-273-8255, or online chat is available on their website at suicidepreventionlifeline.org. To text a crisis counselor, text the word “HOME” to 741741.
“Sometimes people don’t want to have a conversation out loud and texting is easier,” Reina said.
A COVID-19 mental health hotline remains open for those suffering pandemic related stress at 833-986-1919.