The COVID-19 pandemic has not been a picnic for people who’ve grown accustomed to stability.
For some people, stability is a key to their happiness. Movies and television may glamorize characters like Angus MacGyver, who only survives each weekly television episode of “MacGyver” by miraculously creating a device out of a battery and wire to stun his adversaries. But many people just want to be able to pay their rent or house payment.
So when the coronavirus appeared on their doorsteps six weeks ago, resulting in businesses, schools and routines coming to a halt, many people found themselves with occasional feelings of dread.
Jody Klase, director of Valley Counseling, which provides mental health services in Mahoning and Trumbull counties, said “planful” people have taken a hit to their emotional stability during this time of uncertainty.
Such people may not typically seek mental health services, but this may be the time to give it a try, she said.
“We are seeing different populations of people that are reaching out to us for help,” she said.
“Just the whole idea of isolating and being at home, and being out of your normal routine, those things alone are such triggers for people that are used to being very social,” she said.
“And then that fear of the unknown is another big one for all of us, not knowing what is going to happen next. When people are very planful and don’t take things as they come, they very much are planning and wanting to know what’s next. And none of us know what is coming next as far as when they will go back to work or what school will look like when they go back in the fall or whatever it’s going to be.”
Klase uses her own life as an example.
“I have a senior at home, so will we be able to have a graduation or not? Can someone have a wedding or not? There are so many stories I hear right now.
“And that’s not to mention the biggest fear everyone’s got: Is someone going to get sick? Or if a family member will get sick and what that will look like.
“That’s where people are having a hard time without having those very concrete answers and letting their thoughts run away from them, which is all normal.”
Klase said she has seen a lot of her co-workers and employees dealing with the issue of not knowing what they will do from one day to the next or fearing what will happen if they get laid off. She said this situation has shown her that you can’t really predict which people will experience high levels of anxiety or depression over changes forced on their lives.
“No one could have ever, ever predicted something would happen like this or predicted the behaviors that would have resulted from it. It’s all over the place right now. You have to feel for people,” she said.
She thinks most people are “starting to find their ‘new normal,’” but “there is still for all of us, ‘When is this going to stop? How is that going to look?’”
As for people coming to Valley Counseling seeking help at its offices in Warren and Boardman, she said: “The biggest thing I’ve been telling people is that all of these feelings of anxiety or depression, anything else people are feeling, is very normal, and it’s OK to feel that way, and it’s OK to reach out for help.”
She said services are being provided over the phone or video right now, which she thinks is making it easier for some people to ask for help who might not otherwise not do it because of the stigma attached to seeking help for mental health issues.
“I think it helps with the stigma because they are not sitting in a waiting room thinking someone might see them,” she said.
UNEXPECTED LIFE CHANGES
Duane Piccirilli, executive director of the Mahoning County Mental Health and Recovery Board, said COVID-19 resulted in people being tossed out of work who would not have expected ever to be out of work.
“Some people never really had to develop any coping skills because they had a job, they went to work, they had a family and didn’t have a lot of stressors in their lives,” he said.
“For some people, what we do is who we are, and they never thought they would lose their livelihood, and things shut down so abruptly.”
He said Gov. Mike DeWine and others have stressed that restarting Ohio’s economy will not be like “throwing a switch,” “but it was pretty much like throwing a switch to stop it. Things just closed. Because people’s identity is their work, they are kind of struggling now.”
He said a person struggling because of the changes the virus has caused should not feel it’s a weakness to call a mental health agency to feel better.
“If you lost your job and are having trouble making payments and feel sad and hopeless, that’s called being human. If you weren’t sad right now, there would be something wrong with you. So absolutely pick up the phone and talk.”
He recommended calling the 211 Help Network, which is available to residents of Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties 24 hours per day, seven days per week. Or call a friend.
“If you know someone who is losing their job, give them a call,” he said.
Counselors try to help a person see things from a different perspective if they are anxious or depressed, he said.
“What we do to try to help people is help them see this is just a short time issue, try to open up the vision because they have like tunnel vision to see the negative. (We) open up their vision and say ‘OK, there are other opportunities here. Things will open up again. That check will come.’”
Piccirilli said COVID-19 has made him more aware of something our society has lost in recent decades: a connection to our neighbors.
“If this pandemic has taught us anything it’s that we have to start knowing our neighbors again. We’ve got to start knowing who our co-workers are again. Things are moving so fast. We get to the point where we don’t even know who is living next door to us.”
He said that has made it harder for us to reach out to neighbors and co-workers, but it can be done.
“If you see a change in someone’s behavior, it doesn’t hurt to ask them how things are going,” he said.
Vince M. Brancaccio is chief executive officer for Help Network of Northeast Ohio, which has its offices in Youngstown and can be reached by calling 211 or 330-747-2696.
He said calls to the agency doubled the first couple weeks of the virus in March. They have since returned to normal levels, but he expects there to be ongoing waves of concern and calls in the months to come.
At first, people mostly wanted help locating food pantries and had financial concerns. The second-most important topic on the minds of callers has been a desire for information about the virus, such as how to protect themselves.
The topic that came up third most was what the agency calls “mental health reassurance — basically people calling just having anxiety,” Brancaccio said.
The isolation the state’s stay-at-home orders have caused “may have triggered some past issues, some trauma. People are getting depressed, worried, so our staff on the crisis hotline are fielding those calls, just being there, just listening to them, providing support directing them,” he said.
The No. 1 focus of calls to the center now are on the virus and the anxiety it is causing, he said.
“They need some mental health, reassurance. It really centers around their mental well-being,” he said.
Not every person wanting help needs to make a phone call. The people who answer the phone at the Help Network use the same information that anyone can access on the agency’s website, Brancaccio said.
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