Mental Health Authority sees increasing requests for services

Trouble sleeping? Feeling on edge? Difficulties concentrating? Racing thoughts?

These are all symptoms of anxiety or severe stress. Fatigue, feelings of helplessness or emptiness, changes in appetite or weight, and loss of interest in things you once enjoyed are signs of depression.

If you are experiencing such symptoms, you are not alone.

It is nearly impossible to stay at home for months on end, cancel a year’s worth of events and disrupt even basic routines such as seeing friends and family without a significant impact on mental health. And yet, it can feel like the impact of these changes is just stress and treat it as something to power or will ourselves through.

Not surprisingly, according to Mental Health America’s 2021 State of Mental Health in America report, the number of people seeking help for anxiety or depression has soared. Another recent study has shown that emergency department visits for mental health concerns, suicide attempts, drug overdoses, and violence have greatly increased nation-wide during the pandemic.

These reports align with what we are experiencing locally at Northern Lakes Community Mental Health Authority (NLCMHA). We are receiving increasing requests for services and our crisis services team has been responding more frequently to those in need who reside in our northern Michigan communities.

The pandemic has disrupted most aspects of our lives. However, the added isolation of quarantines, social distancing and postponed events significantly impact our mental well-being. We miss our friends and family and these social bonds, which comprise our support systems and safety networks.

Those personal Zoom calls certainly can help us stay connected on some level, however in-person contact is something that many of us crave to get back into our daily lives. With many personal interactions on long-term pause, so to speak, we can find ourselves at risk for feelings of loneliness, isolation, and symptoms of anxiety or depression.

A pandemic also brings a host of other stressors of a practical and very understandable nature – loss of employment, reduction of income, difficulty paying bills, fears of eviction, grief from the loss of loved ones, and fear for ourselves and others.

The good news is there is a lot we can do to help ourselves.

We have all heard the things we can do to be healthy— exercise, eat good and nutritious food, get enough sleep—and these are all key to protecting our mental health as well. These actions are just as important during COVID-19 as all the pandemic public health precautions we practice every day.

One unique mental health tool we can all use is psychological personal protective equipment (PPE). The concept is similar in some ways to standard PPE and includes establishing practices and routines that will protect and nurture psychological resilience. Donning such PPE can become automatic and ritualized.

Self-care looks different for everyone. Individuals can tailor their own psychological PPE in a way that suits their personal needs. Some examples: create both mental and physical space between work and home life; avoid publicity and media coverage about COVID-19; find opportunities to show gratitude (for example, volunteer at a local vaccination clinic!); reframe negative experiences as positive and reclaim control; focus on breathing; and get outside, even in our seemingly uninviting winter weather.

There are no easy answers to solving mental health concerns during a pandemic. It would be simplistic to say, “See your doctor,” or, “Call CMH,” though if either of these things will help you, then by all means do so.

Employers and community members alike should be aware that Northern Lakes CMHA has deployed its access to services line during business hours to serve as a warm line for anyone who would like to talk to someone about the stress and anxiety of COVID-19. Call (800) 492-5742 to talk with a mental health professional.

In addition, the NLMCHA 24/7 crisis line continues as emergency help for anyone, anytime. If you just don’t know what to do, call us at (833) 295-0616.  And if the crisis involves a young person under 20 years of age, ask for the Family Assessment Safety Team (FAST), NLCMHA’s mobile crisis unit. If you are more comfortable texting than talking, you can obtain help from the State of Michigan Crisis Text Line 24/7 by texting RESTORE to 741741.

Also, anyone in the community may access myStrength, a free self-help health and wellness app that can support a wide range of mental health needs, including addiction, mindfulness, trauma, and wellness. NLCMHA provides this free of cost to everyone who lives in Grand Traverse, Leelanau, Wexford, Missaukee, Crawford and Roscommon counties. Use access code NLCMHcommunity to set up a free account. Employers are encouraged to share this resource with their employees as a free component of their employee assistance program.

Curtis Cummins, M.D., is medical director for Northern Lakes Community Mental Health Authority and Northern Michigan Regional Entity and an active staff physician at Munson Medical Center. He is board certified in psychiatry and resides in Traverse City.