As I watch the news each night, it strikes me how often I hear about the physical damage COVID-19 can cause. During the past year I’ve learned more about the human respiratory system than I ever expected to.
Recently, I’ve also begun to hear more about the toll the pandemic is taking on our minds.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, so it’s the perfect time to examine how the pandemic impacts us from a mental health perspective. To learn more, we reached out to the executive directors of two local mental health nonprofits – Sarah Eliasoph of NAMI Lowcountry (National Alliance on Mental Illness) and Steve Maglione of The Island House/Mental Health America of Beaufort-Jasper. Both organizations have established funds with the Community Foundation to further their missions of supporting individuals with mental health conditions, and they shared their observations on how the pandemic has affected people in the Lowcountry.
Both organizations have seen a tremendous uptick in mental health issues since the pandemic started, “primarily in the areas of depression and anxiety,” according to Eliasoph. “Everyday people are finding it difficult, especially if they are living alone. The stressors are finances, health, employment, child care, home schooling and day-to-day living in uncertainty.”
Eliasoph said that many calls they’ve received come from parents who are worried about their depressed, anxious and sometimes angry children.
It’s not just children who are affected. COVID-19 is taking a mental toll on veterans, adults, young adults and law enforcement personnel, including white, Black, Latinx, LGBTQ, kids, parents and grandparents, Eliasoph says. “COVID is equal opportunity, just like mental illness.”
Maglione said it’s difficult to identify, screen and treat mental illness under any circumstances, but the pandemic has complicated the process even further. The Island House provides licensed therapeutic services to promote and sustain emotional stability within each person’s life situations, and COVID-19 has required that they “adapt additional safety measures and curriculum aspects to respond to the consequences of the pandemic.”
NAMI provides their clients the names of therapists or psychiatrists, or referrals to mental health centers. Additionally, they offer support groups for both the individual experiencing mental health issues and their families, though some have been paused during the pandemic. “The first thing we do is listen,” she says, “and sometimes we’re the first people to do so.”
Mental health problems are often stigmatized, even though statistics indicate that one in four adults in the United States will suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year. The pandemic has only increased our awareness that anyone can experience this struggle.
If you find yourself wrestling with anxiety, depression, anger or other mental health issues, you can find helpful information at namilowcountry.org or mhaislandhouse.com. If you would like to support these organizations so they can continue their vital work, you can donate to their funds via the Community Foundation website at cf-lowcountry.org.
Scott Wierman is the president and CEO of Community Foundation of the Lowcountry.