For residents of the Space Coast – along with much of the world – March would prove no ordinary start of Spring. As the country would soon learn, an invisible disease tagged coronavirus was killing expeditiously in a tour de force around the globe.
Seemingly overnight, everything went upside down: from stay at home orders, to school closings, to businesses shuttering, to streets clearing and to images straight out of a motion picture horror flick cycling through every conceivable news outlet, major life changes were thrust upon us all.
The fear of the unknown, compounded with the lack of control over what has been happening around us is taking a toll. Nowhere is that more evident than in the community of mental health providers.
Among those already experiencing anxiety, stress, coping challenges, emotional disorders and other mental or behavioral health problems daily, the pandemic has acted to amplify and exacerbate the struggles.
Alarmingly, and pre-pandemic, the Florida Behavioral Health Association reported that almost 62% of Floridians that experience emotional or mental challenges do not regularly seek treatment, compared to the national average of 51%. Additionally, Florida ranks 44th in access to mental health care, with Brevard County’s ratio of one healthcare provider for every 500-750 patients in need of care.
Student & Stress
With schools abruptly closed through summer, children and teens have settled into a new way of learning. Some transitioned easily while others have had a more difficult time.
While teens are expected to manage their obligations, special needs and younger students require assistance from a now furloughed, unemployed or telecommuting parent. The added stress can be difficult to manage for families.
There is an upside for some of the students, though.
Very young kids are enjoying the “downtime” with parents at home, and do not miss the day-to-day comparisons to others that most children experience during a traditional school day.
“Many children, including teen patients, are enjoying virtual schooling. They aren’t having to deal with being left out, or not being included in a play date or party because everyone is home. With the stress of the traditional school setting removed, they aren’t experiencing the same level of anxiety,” said Dr. Brady Bradshaw, MD, a child psychiatrist in Orlando who treats patients from Brevard.
However, for the parent who’s trying to balance the emotional changes associated with the new homeschooling reality, the additional obligations of ensuring the children stay on task can be completely overwhelming.
“The ability to focus and maintain a schedule is important and helpful. But, not at the sake of destroying the family dynamic,” Bradshaw said. “Ideally you want everyone to reflect back on this very odd time in our lives as a positive, bonding experience for the family. Not a high-stress, challenging one.”
Virtual Applications for Counseling
Mental health professionals have had to hustle to transition from traditional office settings to virtual ones (often referred to as telemedicine) as an alternate form of support for patients. The need for mental health professionals to continue to provide care required identifying on-line video conference applications that would also be complaint with the federally-mandated Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, commonly referred to as HIPPA.
Even before the pandemic, one in six adults in the United States reported experiencing some sort of mental health issue in a given year. For many already experiencing these challenges, feelings of anxiety and depression are heightened by the isolation of social distancing and quarantining, uncertainty about work, dealing with kids at home 24/7 and other factors. For some with more pronounced conditions, the thought of traveling outside the home for treatment is absolutely crippling.
Telemedicine has been a relief for many of these patients, giving them the ability to hold on to a small bit of control in their lives, from the safe confines of their home.
Amy Jordan, MA, LMHC, a Licensed Mental Health Counselor with Brevard Counseling in Rockledge and Viera, continues to see some patients in her office while applying strict social distancing measures. Patients wait in their cars until they are called in for their appointment time and they practice safety protocols for hygiene while together.
“My patients have been so kind, and so grateful that I’ve been able to continue to provide in-person care,” she said.
Ms. Jordan said she’s been impressed with how people in our community have come together to help one another during the many transitions that have been forced upon us: “It has been heartwarming,” she said.
Marriages: Bonding or Breaking?
While each marriage has its own set of unique challenges, couples seeking professional care generally are doing so to address shortfalls, a crisis, or evolution to a better partnership.
Each relationship has a specific skill set that both help and impede intimacy and progress. When marriages are in peril, and additionally presented with an uncontrollable crisis such as a pandemic, the resulting outcome will fluctuate: unions are either strengthened, weakened or destroyed.
Anthony Ferretti, Ph. D., a Melbourne-based psychologist who specializes in couples counseling, explains that some couples may grow closer to fight against a “faceless enemy” such as the coronavirus, while problems for other couples may be further intensified.
“Unfortunately, when we experience stress, it often magnifies our personality traits,” he said.
Couples can avoid further damaging their relationship by setting clear expectations and boundaries, alternating attention among the needs for children, pets and work, planning for individual (alone) time and checking in regularly with each other on feelings and frustrations in a calm and supportive manner.
As Florida begins on the path to reopening at a gradual pace, it’s important we consider that we have a social responsibility to our community, to those that serve on the front lines and most especially to each other.
“Having empathy and considering how someone else may be doing during this trying time is a helpful way to check in with ourselves, too,” said Jordan, noting that giving of ourselves to others has the added benefit of providing a feeling of more in control over our own well-being.
If you or someone you know is experiencing mental health issues, call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration toll free at 800-487-4357 for referrals to local treatment and support options.
Kelly Collazo Camarind owns and manages Executive and HealthCare Promotions, Inc., a boutique public relations and market development agency serving the legal community, specialty practice physician groups, hospitals, and more. For information, visit online at www.executiveandhealthcarepromotions.com