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How are you? A look at pandemic's impact on SLO County's mental health

How to manage stress during the coronavirus pandemic based on personality type
Posted at 6:45 AM, Mar 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-25 11:58:05-04

A new poll shows the pandemic has taken a toll on many Americans' mental health, now a year into living with virus restrictions.

When COVID-19 forced stay-at-home orders, mental health professionals like Frank Warren were worried.

"Our greatest fears a year ago looking back now were that people were going to isolate, they were going to avoid getting help, they were going to stop getting the help that they were receiving before the shelter-at-home took place," Warren said.

Warren specializes in addiction counseling for San Luis Obispo County Behavioral Health.

"We were really glad to see that a lot of the people who were receiving care continued to receive care because they were able to pivot to telehealth," he said.

According to a new American Psychological Association poll, nearly a third of U.S. adults say their mental health has worsened during the pandemic. More than two-thirds of people surveyed say they have noticed changes to their sleeping patterns and nearly one in four say they have been drinking more to cope.

Warren says thankfully, the early data show suicide did not significantly rise in San Luis Obispo County over the last year.

"However, we did see an increase in opioid-related deaths, overdoses in our community. Whether that's related, it's still really too hard to tell," Warren said.

With vaccinations comes lifting restrictions but the return to normal may not be easy for everyone.

"If you have anxiety, you may want to start with smaller steps, join a workout group, take a yoga class, get yourself acclimated to being around a lot of people," Warren said.

Therapist Jill Reitjens works with youth in San Luis Obispo County. She expects the return to school will be tough on many kids.

"Transitions are hard, even when we are transitioning to something good," Reitjens said.

She says anxiety may increase among students.

"Not knowing how to interact with peers, not knowing, 'Do I have to wear my mask? How close do I stand? How do we play?'" Reitjens said. " I think a lot of those uncertainties that we as adults will be facing, our kids will be facing as well."

Some may want to consider how to respond to an extended handshake or a hug.

"I think it's really important for all of us be honest with where we're at and be communicative," Reitjens said.

Warren and Reitjens agree that communicating with loved ones is key to taking care of one another during this challenging time.

"One of the things we learned is how to check on each other. We need to keep doing that in this period even more so," Warren said.

"Looking at how we've survived this and at times, even thrived during this will help us during the next challenges that we face in our lives," Reitjens said.

Warren says a silver lining of the pandemic is that this time has accelerated the conversation about eliminating the stigma of mental illness and seeking help.

If you are someone you know could benefit from mental health services, San Luis Obispo County Behavioral Health offers resources for all local residents.