Managing your mental health during the coronavirus pandemic

by Brianna Blackshire
Contributing Reporter

Muskegon, Michigan- The daily counts of COVID-19 cases and deaths reported by the Muskegon County health department tell the physical side of the coronavirus outbreak. Mentally, the effects of the pandemic aren’t as clear.

The fear, uncertainty, loss, and social isolation caused by the pandemic have affected people of all ages. For many Muskegon county residents, Covid-19 has caused mental health conditions and exacerbated pre-existing ones.

Life was stressful before the pandemic and new challenges such as virtual learning, teleworking, economic hardships, and dealing with sickness and death have contributed to these stressors.

“We cannot ignore how traumatic this event has been on Muskegon county as a whole,” said Gary Ridley, Communications and Social Marketing Coordinator for HealthWest.

In a time where many critical mental health services have been suspended, HealthWest (formerly Community Mental Health) has remained open.

HealthWest is a mental health provider that services over 7,000 children and adults with developmental disabilities, mental illness, or substance use concerns annually. All their services are community-based and focus on meeting people where they are.

Like many treatment facilities, HealthWest has adopted telemedicine and teletherapy in place of in-person visits. “The way our office operates right now is completely different than it was a year ago. You walk in our building today and it doesn’t even look like the same building,” said Ridley.

“Early in the pandemic we really operated on the idea of servicing our customers as safely as we could,” said Michael Pyne, Customer Service Representative for HealthWest. “Research shows that teletherapy can be just as effective, and the research is pretty consistent,” he said.

Although helpful in preventing the spread of the virus, there are disparities among those who have access to these alternatives. “We recognize that it can be a barrier and we also understand that we may be missing a certain portion of the population that doesn’t have access, so we work hard to respect and accommodate those who may require in-person care,” said Pyne.

HealthWest is working hard to provide its continuous support to the community by expanding their crisis line and offering virtual community groups. Caseworkers are calling people on their caseload weekly, and there is a team of people actively working in the community to follow up with those who can’t be reached over the telephone.

Ridley said, “We know that certain services can’t be done over the telephone and that is why our office hasn’t closed.”

According to the CDC, symptoms of depression quadrupled in June 2020 compared to what they were during that time the previous year while symptoms of anxiety tripled compared to what they were the previous year. The CDC also stated that 40 percent of Americans reported some mental health issue or substance abuse concern related to the pandemic.

The pandemic itself has been a shared trauma for most people. “Everyone experiences it differently, some people will sail through and others will struggle with anxiety and depression and all that goes along with it,” said Pyne.

He said, “The important thing that we are doing and have learned through research on the pandemic and epidemics that have happened before is to help people manage the fear and anxiety they have because it’s just as important to manage these symptoms as it is to flatten the curve.”

HealthWest offers a variety of virtual community groups such as “Talk Time” which occurs daily at 1:00 p.m. on their Facebook Page. This meeting was designed to bring people together and create a space for them to enjoy the company of a friendly face.

Some disorders thrive in isolation and Pyne encourages anyone who has been struggling with their mental health for four or more weeks to seek help. “If you are struggling with your mental health, don’t let it go unchecked for longer than five weeks,” said Pyne. He said, “The average American waits 10 years to get help and that would be unthinkable if we were talking about a physical ailment.”

“That help doesn’t have to come from HealthWest,” he said. It could come from any mental health care provider in the county. The important thing is that you get help because the earlier you engage in treatment, the better the outcome.

To anyone reading this who is struggling with anxiety, depression, or any other mental health condition or has a friend or relative that has been struggling with their mental health; you are not alone and there are resources available to you.

The HealthWest crisis hotline is operated 24/7. If you or a loved one need immediate help, call 231-722-help.

For more information call 231.724.1111 or go to www.healthwest.net

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