TEXARKANA — Anxiety, depression, stress, isolation, substance use, shame and fear: For many, these are the main effects of the coronavirus pandemic that continues to sweep through the U.S. with no end in sight.
Alongside worries about contracting COVID-19, the social and economic disruptions caused by the pandemic have resulted in new or worsened mental health struggles in a broad cross-section of the population. But professionals and others in the community want those suffering to know that there is hope and help is available.
With millions of Americans unemployed because of pandemic-related shutdowns, many are finding it difficult to see after their most basic physical needs and security, leading to stress, fear about the future and — for those unaccustomed to needing help — feelings of shame and embarrassment.
Others who already struggled with common mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder have seen them exacerbated by the situation's danger and uncertainty. Distancing has disrupted the social relationships and intimacy all people need.
And all of the above make it harder to recover from substance use disorder. After falling from a peak in 2016 and 2017, drug overdose deaths have begun to inch back up, said Dr. Ken Duckworth, chief medical officer for the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
"Addiction is a piece of the mental health puzzle, and we're clearly losing that battle at this point.
"We already have indications that overdose deaths are increasing, and we knew before the pandemic that the suicide rate was rising," he said. "It's hard to imagine this won't be a rough year."
Many mental health issues affect only one aspect of people's lives or are caused by disasters such as tornadoes or floods that come and go in relatively short periods of time. But the pandemic's effects on mental health are ongoing and all-encompassing, making them especially difficult, said Dianne Skaggs, executive director of the Mental Health Council of Arkansas.
"It's hard in so many ways," she said. "There's no respite, no respite for anyone, including the helpers."
One Texarkana-area resident diagnosed with autism and post-traumatic stress disorder pointed to another source of distress: the split between those concerned about the pandemic and others who see its danger as exaggerated or even a politically motivated hoax. The Gazette granted him anonymity because of the stigma often attached to mental illness.
"The division, the anger, the need to be correct, the ignorance and apathy which quite literally hurts my mind to think of and be around, is constant, social media and conspiracies occupy the minds of normally logical people. I watch supposedly normal people do what one would consider insane acts.
"It's been crushingly difficult, trips to town are like planned attacks, my sons are bored and so am I, people like myself require scheduled lives. This has made that impossible and the strain from that, I must say, has by far been the worst of it all, and the lack of time to myself which I need to recharge," he said in an email.
Worse, the damage to mental health caused by the pandemic may linger for years to come. Any trauma experienced by someone without control of the situation can result in PTSD, a serious, chronic mental illness, Skaggs said. That makes seeking help and engaging in self-care now even more important, she said, adding that no one should be ashamed of their very normal reactions to an abnormally difficult situation.
Help is available, including low-cost and no-cost options.
The Mental Health Council of Arkansas recently launched a program called Stay Positive Arkansas, funded by a Federal Emergency Management Agency grant, that makes coronavirus-specific crisis counselors available across the state at no charge. The Southwest Arkansas Counseling and Mental Health Center in Texarkana offers mental health services on a sliding fee scale, promising that no one will be turned away because of inability to pay.
In Northeast Texas, Community Healthcore offers mental health care services on a similar basis. The University of Texas Health Science Center at Tyler has established a hotline specifically to help East Texans connect with mental health and other resources. The Texas Health and Human Services Commission also operates a mental health support line.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness' state-level organizations offer services such as online support groups and classes, and the organization also offers a national crisis hotline. The Crisis Text Line, Disaster Distress Helpline and National Suicide Prevention Lifeline also are available to anyone who needs someone to talk with and/or referrals to other services.
For contact information, see the directory that accompanies this story.
Mental Health Resources DirectoryRead more
More people are seeking help with mental health problems since the pandemic began, which could be a "silver lining" in the situation, Duckworth said.
Remote access to mental health care via internet or phone is increasingly common and, because of emergency legislation, now payable by Medicare and Medicaid. The rapid shift to telemedicine among mental health care providers has been another positive change this year, Duckworth said.
"There are groups and support groups and online conversations, and you don't have to be as isolated as you might think," he said. "I'm not saying it's easy, I'm not saying it's not a challenge, I'm not saying it's not difficult living with all the uncertainty. All those things are still difficult. But if you worry together, people tend to do better."
Nash, Texas, resident David Solley would agree. Solley suffers from depression and anxiety, and since his epilepsy diagnosis last year has not been able to work or drive. At times, he said, his anxiety was so severe he was afraid to leave his house.
But the support of his wife, work with a therapist and medication have yielded positive results, and Solley is feeling better. He shared his story in hopes of helping others, suggesting that now, when so much of the normal busyness of life has slowed, may actually be the perfect time for reflection and self-care, both physical and mental.
"There's help out there. There's resources," he said. "Just reach out is the main thing, before it takes control or consumes you. Just reach out for help."