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Are we sacrificing our mental health to stay physically healthy?

COVID-19 has demanded we sacrifice so much in our lives to limit infections and save lives. And, while we may understand the reasons why, some local mental health professionals are left wondering how long we’ll pay the price of having so many people struggling with mental health issues.

The cost, they say, is high and will affect us for years.

Representatives from five local organizations talked with each other about the groups they see being affected the most.

“We're seeing people now that we probably would have never seen, right,” said Pam Bolarinho, LICSW, director of emergency services, Child & Family Services. “We've seen it with adolescents. We haven't seen as many school-age kids, like the little ones, but the adolescence, we’re seeing it more and more with them.”

They’re also seeing people who have been in recovery struggle with substance use again, she said.

“I just got a call from (someone) and this person was in recovery for a long time and this past year resulted in her starting to drink again,” she added. “And this person is feeling severely disappointed in themselves. They're severely depressed.”

“I would also say that this knows no age,” said Matthew Boyd, Mobile Crisis Intervention program manager, Child & Family Services, Inc. “I took a call this morning from an 80-year-old woman whose elderly support system is closed down. They're not holding their weekly meetings… and she's really struggling.”

Brittany Botelho, home care manager, Coastline Elderly, agreed.

“For the 60 and above population, we are seeing more people who self-identify with feelings of sadness and depression. Isolation is through the roof,” she said. “It's one thing to remind people that we’re socially distanced, not socially isolated; but, it's another thing to actually believe that in your heart and then your mind.”

Substance abuse is also increasing among the elderly, Botelho said.

“We're also seeing numbers of elders with substance abuse issues and increased alcohol intake, which as you get older your body actually absorbs alcohol differently,” she said. “So it's leading to increased falls and just so many co-morbidities; it's absolutely terrifying.”

“I was on a call with EMEA, and they mentioned how elders are passing away from things other than Covid, because everything seems to be shut down out of fear for Covid. People are socially isolated and can't participate in those protective factors, in those groups that they have. They can't see people. They can't even go to the grocery store. Some people look forward to going to the market, that's their outing once a week. They go peruse Shaw’s for a while and (now) they're told, ’It’s not safe. Don't go to Shaw’s,’” Botelho continued. “So it's really a difficult time for people.”

“I think there needs to be more discussions like this outside of community groups,” said Tara Pacheco, Community Outreach Coordinator, High Point Treatment Center, CCBHC, about the frank discussion of COVID mental health impacts. “I think the focus is so much on Covid numbers. Covid numbers, illness, and death that the discussions for mental health (are being left behind.) You're making people choose between physical health and mental health sometimes and that's a guilt on its own.”

“Individuals are stuck in survival mode, and when we're in survival mode your anxiety is high,” agreed Boyd. “You're riding your amygdala. You know, it's fight or flight, right? Everyone is fighting right now in some way and self-care or wellness is so important.”

Each person finding what works for them is key to staying healthy, he said.

“So I think it's really important that people still try to find those moments to do something that is familiar to their life pre-Covid,” Boyd said. “It's important that people try to do something that's familiar to what they used to do for wellness.”

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