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As we pass the one-year mark of the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, a different kind of epidemic has been created, as the number of people seeking help for mental health issues has risen dramatically.

“There has definitely been an influx,” said Will Halsey, a licensed mental health counselor with Family Counseling Associates. “There are growing wait lists at many places.”

And, it seems, every demographic of society has been impacted, though members of each are facing very different struggles.

Teenagers have missed out on important rites of passage, whether it be prom, a formal graduation ceremony, recitals, performances or even a normal beginning to their freshman year of college.

“High school seniors experienced a sort of double whammy,” Halsey said. “They missed out on some rites of passage that are very important for development. … And then many of them are not getting those normal experiences associated with their freshman year of college.”

Children and tweens have been isolated from their peers, significantly impacting social and emotional development.

“Youths today are more accustomed to changes due to the technological age,” Halsey explained. “They do a good job adapting, but there’s an emotional lag.”

Senior citizens, more than any other group, have feared for their health – and their life – with many losing friends to the virus. They have also faced unprecedented times of loneliness as senior community centers have remained shuttered and family members have kept a distance so as not to unintentionally infect their loved ones.

New moms have found themselves in unusual circumstances without the typical support systems to guide them through conditions like postpartum depression.

More:Raising a new baby during the pandemic can be lonely, stressful. Help is available.

And folks on low and fixed incomes, as well as those who lost jobs due to business closures, have been carrying an unexpected burden of anxiety, unsure of what might happen to them once eviction moratoriums end.

Coping through COVID

With so many more things to be concerned about, Halsey said the pandemic has definitely exacerbated things for people already struggling with mental health issues.

“Anybody with depression before is now really struggling,” he said. “Their issues have been ratcheted up.”

Breanna Lucci, a licensed mental health counselor on the North Shore, said for many people, finding new ways to manage their illness has been very difficult.

“People’s coping skills have had to be adjusted,” she said, noting that going to the gym or grabbing coffee with a friend to help ease stress and anxiety were no longer options. “What productivity and self care looks like has changed.”

Overall, Lucci said those struggling with addiction may have been the most negatively impacted by the pandemic, as in-person support groups ceased entirely for a period of time.

“I’m nervous about how [the pandemic] will impact the substance abuse population,” she said. “Once meetings go back to in-person, I imagine the numbers are going to increase a lot. But, I'm hoping it will also lead to the creation of more programs.”

As the vaccine has started to become more widely available, Halsey said people are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

“In my mind, things will be back to normal in the next year or so,” he said. “But there’s definitely going to be a lasting impact. Some people have been dealing with setbacks that take much longer to come back from.”

The expectation, Halsey said, is that for the next couple years, many people will struggle to overcome a variety of phobias and paranoias related to the pandemic, including obsessive compulsive disorder, agoraphobia and germaphobia, among others.

“It’s going to take some time for these folks to feel comfortable going out again,” Halsey said.

Turning to telehealth

If there’s one good thing that’s come from the pandemic, it’s the prevalence of telehealth, which has helped give people of all ages and walks of life a resource they can access from anywhere.

“It certainly has its benefits,” Halsey said. “And it’s likely here to stay.”

For many people seeking treatment, telehealth has essentially been a blessing in disguise.

“Some people really enjoy it,” said Lucci.

However, whether or not insurance companies will continue to be lenient with virtual treatment remains to be seen.

Other support programs have gone virtual, as well, including many of the offerings from National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

Chris Sadkowski, president of the Greater North Shore contingent of NAMI, said when COVID hit, all of the in-person groups were put on hold temporarily.

“They gradually moved to Zoom,” he said. “We’ve adapted pretty well. And sometimes it’s easier for people. … Many people are extraordinarily grateful to have that resource through these difficult times.”

While virtual support groups are definitely not the same in terms of interaction, Sadkowski said he wouldn’t be surprised if that option became permanent.

“A lot of the groups will eventually go back to in-person,” he said. “But, it’s on the table to keep some of them virtual.”

Resources

The following are just some of the resources available for those dealing with mental health issues:

General:

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA): www.samhsa.gov/find-treatment

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI): www.nami.org/help

Lahey Psychiatric Crisis Team: http://nebhealth.org/site/assets/pdfs/Salem-w-gloucester.pdf

For new moms:

Postpartum Support International: www.postpartum.net

North Shore Postpartum Depression Task Force: www.northshorepostpartumhelp.org

Jewish Family & Children’s Services: www.jfcsboston.org

For teens and youths:

Tri-Town Council: www.tritowncouncil.org/mental-health

Harvard University’s Making Caring Common Project: https://mcc.gse.harvard.edu/reports/loneliness-in-america

Substance abuse:

Recovery Centers of America: www.recoverycentersofamerica.com/resources

National Institute on Drug Abuse: www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/resources

Baystate Recovery Services: www.baystaterecovery.com

Seniors:

National Coalition on Mental Health and Aging: www.ncmha.org/resources


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