Quarantine, self-isolation: Taking a toll on mental health

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(WYDaily file/Courtesy of Unsplash)
(WYDaily file/Courtesy of Unsplash)

While the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic continues to isolate people in their homes, it’s also taking a toll on their mental health.

Lori Burkett, a licensed clinical psychologist with Colonial Behavioral Health, said feelings of depression and loneliness can severely increase during times of isolation. Even with connection through the internet, there can still be an underlying feeling of anxiety that overwhelms individuals.

“People need answers and structures,” Burkett said. “People across the world are susceptible to periods of stress during any overwhelming event, much less something unprecedented like this.”

During this time of social isolation, people are learning to connect through telehealth platforms that allow them to feel a sense of connection with others.

At the Williamsburg chapter of the National Alliance on Mental illness, many of the organization’s services have moved online, said Corey Trench, president of NAMI Williamsburg. 

Trench said the organization had long-running support groups both for caregivers and peers that are now meeting online. 

“We know people need this support now more than ever so even if it’s electronic, it’s a good thing,” Trench said.

He added that support groups for caregivers can be especially important because during quarantine and self-isolation, they’re not having any reprieve or escape. 

When the coronavirus first made an impact on the area, NAMI Williamsburg had to cancel its meetings until it could figure out how to interact with individuals online.

Trench said it was a difficult decision to make because he knew people were being left without the support they needed for a short time. The organization is now having group facilitators reach out to members over the phone and through messaging as a virtual wellness check. He said having these chats on an individual level helps people know they’re not alone.

“When you’re isolated, you’re completely alone and it can feel like you’re the only one dealing with problems,” Trench said. “But in a support group, you find out you’re not alone. There are people here for you.”

Even for those who had not previously experienced mental health issues, the new reality of isolation in the coronavirus can create a more complicated emotional toll.

Trench said when a person who is used to going out and being a part of society suddenly has that taken away from them, they’ll experience feelings similar to depression and other mental health issues because they hadn’t realized how dependent they were on that sense of interconnection.

“It’s a very different thing for someone to be alone and have no contact with another human being,” Burkett said. “So I encourage people to reach out to those who we know in our families and communities that are alone.”

Burkett said she used to be skeptical of the benefits of telehealth because an important part of counseling is connecting with people in person. But this new experience has shown her how much telehealth can have a strong impact on people’s ability to connect and recover.

“Human beings have a great ability to adjust and be very resilient,” she said.

An important aspect of telehealth is it allows people to connect with individuals who even before the pandemic were isolated. This is especially important to the elderly who might be very fragile and alone.

Burkett said reaching out to individuals in isolation can make a significant impact on mental health, even if it is just to chat with them. She’s been encouraging people in the community to call or message their neighbors to check-in and see how they’re doing.

“I think, unfortunately, it has taken this type of virus to remind people that there are those who are alone everyday even without the virus,” she said. “I think what’s most important for people to hear is that there are folks out there that are waiting and willing to help.”

To learn more about NAMI Williamsburg, call 757-220-8535. To learn more about Colonial Behavioral Health, call 757-220-3200.

If you or a loved one are experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.

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