Local Officials Stress Mental Health Awareness During COVID-19

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Suicide attempts and hospitalizations typically spike as the holidays approach, and in the current climate that number is expected to rise.

The longevity of the coronavirus is shining a spotlight on how the pandemic impacts those who struggle with mental illness.

During this year’s Suicide Prevention Month, held in September, local officials highlighted the importance of mental health, especially in this time where many are stuck at home and social outings are still limited due to COVID-19 restrictions. The lack of interaction that has continued from the spring has inevitably impacted mental instability for those who already struggle with mental health, plus those who may have not experienced mental distress before may be more likely to now.

“Mental health awareness has always been important, but it seems even more imperative this year. While mental health is still a stigmatized topic, there is a deeper sense of compassion and empathy as more people are collectively experiencing the stresses of COVID-19 and its ripple effects, anxiety, depression and co-occurring disorders,” a spring newsletter from the Mental Health Association (MHA) in Delaware stated.

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For Sierra Hadik, 23, the threat of mental illness did not begin until the rise of COVID-19. “I actually developed mild anxiety because I have deviated from my normal routine,” she says. “The added stress of financials, finding employment and just everything around me changing took a drastic toll on my mental health.”

Hadik isn’t alone. Angela Pesce, a national certified counselor for the Center for Child Development in Newark, says more suicide attempts and hospitalizations happen in the fall as the holidays approach. In the current climate, that number is expected to rise.

“People feel more isolated and lonelier,” Pesce explains. “There is a big spike that kind of hits and it stays probably until February or March.”

As of 2019, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported over 120 deaths by suicide in Delaware alone and as we reach the holiday season, the further lack of socialization can be detrimental to loved ones. It’s important to understand the warning signs and know how you can help.

“The first thing is checking in with [the person] and still making them feel that connection,” says Pesce. “It could just be ‘Hey! Let’s do a virtual coffee date!’ or a ‘good morning’ phone call.”

“The stronger we can come together as a community and as a small state that Delaware is, really just looking out for one another.”

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While signs of depression and anxiety—lack of attention to self-care, a disruption in daily routines, becoming easily distracted and being pessimistic—may be hard to identify while maintaining social distancing, staying in touch will help you take notice.

People like Pauline Wagner, 25, of Middletown, have experienced amplified symptoms since COVID-19 isolation began. “I felt like my anxiety was getting worse, I was having more frequent panic attacks, becoming worn out much easier and felt the stress of everything hitting me,” she says.

With the need for continued social distancing, many organizations have moved in-person counseling to online video platforms to still provide these services.

Jennifer Smolowitz, the project director for Suicide Prevention through the MHA of Delaware, says the association is expanding its peer program due to the current climate.

“[We’re] making sure that there’s more peer trainings happening so that those who are out working in the field with those who have less experience with mental illness are able to better help those that they come in contact with,” she explains.

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MHA is also holding virtual conferences, and suicide and mental health training online for those looking for ways to get involved.

For those dealing with mental illness themselves, Smolowitz recommends the Crisis Text Line which can be contacted at 741-741 by texting “DE.” Callers are connected with a trained Crisis Counselor. The nonprofit’s line is open to anyone at all hours of the day. The line is known for those facing suicidal thoughts or actions, but it is of use to anyone facing any form of crisis such as hunger, anxiety, bullying and more.

The Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 is always available for situations specifically regarding suicide.

“The stronger we can come together as a community and as a small state that Delaware is, really just looking out for one another. Not being afraid to ask the tough questions,” says Smolowitz.

For more information on Suicide Prevention and mental health, visit mhainde.org.

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