CORONAVIRUS

What to do about coronavirus fears, anxieties

Reach out, get outside, turn off 24-hour news, experts say

Crisis counselor Beth Poma works with a client Feb. 7 via an online chat at Foundation2 in Cedar Rapids. Foundation 2 an
Crisis counselor Beth Poma works with a client Feb. 7 via an online chat at Foundation2 in Cedar Rapids. Foundation 2 and other mental health services have suspended in-person sessions with clients during the coronavirus epidemic, but are encouraging people experiencing anxiety or depression to reach out by phone, text or online. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)
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Local mental health organizations say the prolonged isolation, financial insecurity and fears that have come with coronavirus could trigger a spike in mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.

“There is definitely a concern that the fear and uncertainty associated with the coronavirus will compound already existing mental health issues for some and trigger difficulties for others,” said Drew Martell, director of crisis services for Foundation 2. “We have already seen a slight increase in calls for service, though most of those increases correlate with public initiatives Gov. Kim Reynolds has announced during her press briefings.”

Between March 1 and April 14, Martel said Foundation 2 has had 6,838 contacts with clients, up from 5,711 contacts for the same period last year and the 4,819 contacts in 2018.

Of those 6,838 contacts, 1,603 were coronavirus-related concerns or difficulties, Martel said.

Many of the coronavirus-related calls concerns financial insecurity, fear for one’s self and loved ones, disruption of routine and the uncertainty of the unknown.

For children and teens, that anxiety could be more pronounced as schools remain shuttered and the structure they have relied on for a sense of safety and security is gone.

“Think about all the needs that schools take care of for children — food, a place to go, structure, stimulation, socialization, adult role modeling — there are a lot of things schools provide that we don’t even realize,” said Maggie Hartzler, school-based supervisor for Tanager Place.

“And for many kids, school might be their safe space,” she said. “Their home life could be difficult or chaotic, they may not feel safe where they live, or school could be the one place where they know there are adults they can trust and they know they will get a full meal each day. So to lose that, it’s very stressful.”

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Also, some children whose parents are considered essential workers could be spending time alone at home for long periods of time.

VIRTUAL HELP

And while local mental health care providers are still working, most of their services are online or via the phone — but they’re still available.

“It is really important that people keep in contact with their support network or, if they don’t have one, that they reach out to services like Foundation 2 for help when they’re struggling,” Martel said. “And for those who already receive services from a mental health provider, it is more important now than ever that they maintain that contact and keep that provider informed, should their emotional or mental status change.”

WHAT TO DO

Additionally, Martel said, people can do things on their own to cope with anxiety and stave off the isolation blues:

• Limit media consumption: “The 24-hour news cycle can actually do more harm than good.”

• Move: “Go outside, take a walk, get some sun, and enjoy some of the nice weather we’ve been having. Exercise and fresh air and sunlight can be key in lessening depression and anxiety.”

• Maintain a routine or create one: “Getting up, making the bed, brushing your teeth and getting dressed for the day, are all things that can help with a person’s mind-set in times like this, Having that consistency and structure can ease anxiety and help you make better use of your time.”

• Reach out: “It’s important to remember that social distancing does not mean social isolation. Call friends and family, FaceTime, Zoom, set up virtual game nights or group calls, start group emails or group texts.”

CHILDREN

It’s equally important for children to get outside, running around, riding a bike is equally important for young people, Hartzler said, as is staying connected with their friends.

But she also recommended kids use this time to reflect on the situation and look at what they’re feeling and experiencing. Journaling is a good way to do that, she added, “and I would encourage families do that together.”

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And, if you know someone is struggling, reach out — call them, send a message or an email, let them know they are not alone.

“I think the one thing I really want people — especially young people — to know is that there are people out there who want to help,” Hartzler said. “There are people here who love you and value you and they will do whatever they can to help you. All you need to do is reach out.”

Comments: (319) 398-8238; kat.russell@thegazette.com

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Support our coverage

Our most important Coronavirus coverage is free to the public.

If you believe local news is essential, especially during this crisis, please donate. Your contribution will support news resources to cover the impact of the pandemic on our local communities.

All donations are tax-deductible.