mental health

Experts Say Pandemic is Taking A Toll on Mental Health

Telehealth has played a huge role in getting through to clients

NBCUniversal, Inc.

COVID-19 isn't the only crisis sweeping the country right now. Mental health problems like anxiety and depression are exacerbated by this never-ending year.

Job losses, coronavirus concerns, political turmoil, racial tensions, and natural disasters are piling onto the worries that 2020 has brought forth to society.

Currently, mental health experts are preparing for the busy holiday season helping stressed-out clients.

“We’ve seen COVID-19 basically impact the entire spectrum of adults to children everything from play therapy all the way to our senior population,” said Dr. Christopher Taylor, founder of Taylor Counseling Group, one of the largest counseling groups in Dallas-Fort Worth. “We look at the pandemic more as a change agent, an accelerant of bringing on an awareness of therapy that’s been bubbling up underneath the surface for quite some time.”

He said they've seen a huge uptick in the last few weeks of people looking for help, many for the very first time. Telehealth has played a huge role in getting through to clients.

“Anything that anyone was struggling with in 2019 is now times ten, basically," he said. "It’s like something we’ve never seen before. It has been really intense, everyone is struggling with a myriad of issues. Everything from marital issues to premarital discourse to individuals suffering in depression, anxiety. People that never thought they would need to come to therapy or want to come in for therapy are.”

With the holidays upon us, Taylor said that usually brings on more feelings of anxiety, with or without a pandemic.

“I think add that with the additional isolation that we’ve been going through and the question of should I even go see my family for Thanksgiving? Should I get on a plane and fly somewhere for Christmas? It’s going to definitely be a difficult moment for us as a society over the next 45 days,” he said.

An NBC News analysis of a Census Bureau survey conducted between Oct. 28 and Nov. 9 found that symptoms of depression and anxiety have been seen in all 50 states, with people in major metropolitan areas hit harder by mental health challenges.

More than one in four people in the country reported having felt anxious more than half of the previous seven days.

The numbers of calls and texts to prominent help lines have soared compared to previous years. Christian Burgess, director of the Disaster Distress Helpline, told NBC News the crisis hotline has received about 50,000 calls so far this year, more than during the last four years combined.

Children are not immune from the effects of 2020. Cook Children's hospital in Fort Worth said they've seen a spike in suicide attempts. In August, 29 patients were admitted to the hospital after attempting suicide, marking the second-worst month since at least 2015.

Taylor says although it's been an awful year, this is an opportunity to build strong foundations in yourself and relationships.

“It’s not all doom and gloom. There’s hope, there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Hopefully, we don’t have too much longer to go,” he said. “Be realistic be hopeful. It is coming, we’re going to get out of this and we’re going to move on. Imagine what you want your life to be like after this."

Taylor suggests focusing on gratitude this week and pouring some attention into giving back this holiday season.

"It’s all about practicing gratitude in your life. What are you thankful for? Who are you thankful for? If you can’t go home for Thanksgiving, write down a nice letter for your family. Send out really thoughtful Christmas cards that are personalized and express gratitude for people in your life," he said.

Experts say this is also an opportunity to look inwardly and plan for a new year and a new normal as the country prepares for COVID-19 vaccines that will hopefully bring an end to some of the stressors.

“Think about what you want to look like next year. What are things that you need to work on? What has COVID-19 taught you about your life? And what has isolation taught you about your life? What has been being removed from loved ones and friends taught you about you? And how you deal with real pain and struggle?” he said. "What is that telling you about the cracks in your foundation? Where are you struggling with the most? Let’s go to work in 2021 and build that new foundation. Let’s make you the best you you can be moving forward."

Therapy might not be for everyone but Taylor said smartphone apps like Calm and Headspace have been a really helpful tool for his team to get across to patients and clients.

“One of the things I love about the apps is it just helps me focus on being calm and relaxed. Getting away from the stress and anxiety. Not ignoring it or pretending it’s not there – because we want to work on problems, we want to improve our lives," he said. "But sometimes those negative thoughts and dark clouds they just won’t go away. And so that allows us to recognize that they’re there and let them go.”

If you or someone you know is in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or reach out to the Crisis Text Line by texting ‘Home’ to 741741.

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