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Pueblo experts: Virus taking its toll on mental health as well

Pueblo Chieftain - 3/18/2020

Mar. 18--Across the nation, the stress, worry and fear associated with the ongoing coronavirus crisis is taking its toll on the mental well being of those navigating through it.

And that includes Puebloans, according to Heather Hankins, chief behavioral health officer for Health Solutions.

This week, Mental Health America announced that across the nation, 1,015 additional Americans have been screened with a severe anxiety result in the month since the coronavirus worry began to spread.

"We have been monitoring an overall increase in anxiety screening since the middle of February, when concerns about COVID-19 began to grow," said Paul Gionfriddo, president and CEO of MHA, in a statement. "Severe anxiety is a significant health concern and it cannot be dismissed simply as 'worry' that will pass on its own.

"Severe anxiety is a clinical condition that should trigger prompt and professional treatment and support."

During the first six weeks of 2020, before worry about the virus took hold, on average, 126 people per day screened for severe anxiety. This number grew to 152 per day during the last two weeks in February and to 169 per day during the first two weeks of March.

"This means that we had 360 additional severe anxiety results during the last two weeks in February associated with coronavirus worry," Gionfriddo said. "And we had 655 more during the first two weeks in March."

As a result, the number of excess severe anxiety results associated with the coronavirus passed 1,000 for the first time on Sunday.

While washing the hands might be easy enough, cleansing the psyche of the constant barrage of distressing news isn't nearly as effortless.

"It's definitely a real thing," Hankins said of mental health issues stemming from the crisis. "We have seen an increase in those experiencing anxiety and depression as well as an increase in our walk-ins.

"On Monday morning, we had six walk-ins at one of our centers: normally, we would have one or two. We're also seeing an increase in requests for service for telephone and tele-video service, for those who don't want to get out."

Hankins said a fear of the unknown, coupled with a wealth of inaccurate information, is driving the panic many are experiencing and witnessing.

"A virus is something you can't necessarily see," Hankins said. "And in times of uncertainty, it's pretty common for people to react this way. When people see everyone buying toilet paper, they think they maybe know something that they don't, so they buy, too."

Hankins recommends replacing constant monitoring of social media with an old fashioned walk or game of Monopoly.

"I think there's a lot of false information that comes out that increases panic," she said. "We recommend taking a break from social media, getting outside, taking a walk and getting some fresh air so it's not just a continuous feed of anxiety.

"One of the important quotes I heard is, 'This is not a sprint: it's going to be a marathon.' So give yourself grace and slow down. Enjoy the time with your family you normally wouldn't have because of school or work Get some board games out and try to enjoy that time and let this pass."

Hankins said those who feel the need to talk to someone are invited to call 545-2746 or drop in at one of Health Solutions' sites.

"We have licensed master level clinicians who work with clients on an individual basis to create a specific treatment plan," she said. "And we don't turn anyone away. Our crisis center is always open to everybody."

Hankins said she is encouraged by the way Puebloans continue to rally around each other.

"This community is amazing and I've seen a lot of people come together to support one another," she said. "And I think that's a good look and feel for this community."

Val Baughman, director of behavioral health at Parkview Medical Center, similarly encourages Puebloans to embrace the abundance of positivity that tends to get lost in the darkness.

"Be aware and informed. Always trust reputable sources for your information," Baughman said. "Get your updates as they come out each day and then unglue yourself. Spend time with your family, go for a walk. Focus on the blessings you have.

"I think we tend to focus on this negative energy and negative information that's coming at us, when you have healthy people right next to you. You've got a community full or providers that are capable and prepared to manage this pandemic.

"Focus on all the positives, not the very small negatives, to get your mind off it. The more you focus on the negative, the more that's all you see: when the reality is, it's just a very small piece of all we have to enjoy."



(c)2020 The Pueblo Chieftain (Pueblo, Colo.)

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