During the COVID-19 pandemic, more people are turning to Mental Health America of Howard County’s free online mental health screenings, and the results are showing that many in the community are struggling.
From this time last year, the number of people taking the mental health screenings is up 150 percent. Statistics from those screenings show that 22 percent of people are struggling with anxiety, 27 percent with depression, and 11 percent with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Jill McKibben, executive director of MHA, said the numbers for anxiety and depression are pretty standard, but she was alarmed by the statistics for PTSD.
“The anxiety and depression, those numbers run pretty well throughout the year, but it’s that PTSD that I really noticed an uptick in from what we experienced last year at the same time,” McKibben said.
While PTSD is commonly associated with those who serve in the military, McKibben said the mental health disorder can be caused by any type of stressful situation in which someone experiences some type of trauma. And many people during the COVID-19 pandemic, she said, are experiencing situations that can cause PTSD.
“We are anticipating there will continue to be an increase in post-traumatic stress disorder, especially with our frontline workers, so medical personnel right now, those that have been diagnosed with the COVID-19, their families who have not been able to be there,” McKibben said.
While statistics from the online screenings show people locally already are experiencing the disorder, she anticipates many more, especially frontline workers, will have symptoms of PTSD once the pandemic has slowed. MHA and other national mental health organizations, she said, were preparing to face increased mental health disorders once the pandemic has ended or slowed.
“These things they’re experiencing as frontline workers are things that, mentally, they’re having to deal with now because right now adrenaline is driving them right now. They want to get in there and get the job done, but they need to be taking time also to decompress so they can focus their mind on something else,” she said. “So we anticipate to see an increase in post-traumatic stress disorder because they’re going to have to deal with things that they have not had time to during this pandemic.”
Symptoms of PTSD include nightmares, flashbacks, difficulty sleeping, and feeling emotionally numb. Those who take MHA’s online screenings and show signs of PTSD will be referred to a variety of resources.
Like PTSD, anxiety and depression also can severely impact a person’s life. McKibben said that while everyone has “good and bad days,” experiencing anxiety and/or depression for more than two weeks in any situation indicates a bigger problem. Symptoms can include not being able to get out of bed, lack of energy, increase or decrease in appetite, mood fluctuations, trouble concentrating, increase heart rate, and irritability and/or restlessness.
“That’s where these online resources come in handy because if you feel like, ‘Wow, I’ve been sleeping a lot lately. Am I really depressed, or am I just tired?’ you can go on and take the screening. It can give you answers to those questions for yourself,” she said.
While the screening results haven’t shown a dramatic increase in cases of anxiety and depression, McKibben said it’s likely that people are experiencing it more due to concerns such as getting sick, passing the virus onto others, adjusting to new schedules, dealing with financial stresses, facing shortages of certain common supplies, and not being able to connect with family and friends as usual.
To manage anxiety, McKibben encouraged people to reach out virtually to family and friends, exercise at home, create a new routine, and look for the positives in the situation.
Those who have obsessive-compulsive disorder, McKibben said, also may be having a harder time.
“We’re talking about cleaning, and we need to do this and that. Well, that can become obsessive for them, so instead of just washing their hands maybe once an hour or after they touch something, they’re going to go to the extreme part of that, washing their hands maybe every 15 minutes, sanitizing everything in their house multiple times a day,” she said. “It’s really important for those individuals to read the guidelines on what the CDC has set forth and abide by them instead of really putting a focus on it. That may alleviate some of their anxiety of being overly clean or overly obsessed about keeping things clean.”
For those who think they may be dealing with a mental health disorder, she encouraged them to take the free online mental health screening at mhascreening.org. It’s free, private, and anonymous. Once a person gets their results, MHA will offer information and resources to help individuals cope.
For those facing a crisis, she encouraged them to call or text the crisis hotlines and textlines at 1-800-985-5990 or text “TalkWithUs” to 66746.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and yard signs are available for a $100 donation to support MHA. To sponsor a sign, call McKibben at 765-459-0309 or email email@example.com.