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0000017b-652b-d50a-a3ff-f7efb02e0000KPCW's COVID-19 news coverage for Summit County and Wasatch County, Utah. 0000017b-652b-d50a-a3ff-f7efb02f0000You can also visit the Utah Department of Health, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and World Health Organization websites for additional information.

How To Deal With The Mental Toll Of Covid-19?

KPCW's Consolidated coverage of Coronavirus - COVID-19 for Summit County and Wasatch County Utah with rendering of virus from the CDC
Alissa Eckert, MS; Dan Higgins, MAMS

The outbreak of COVID-19 is raising not just medical and economic issues to the forefront, but also concerns about mental wellness—as individuals are self-isolated, cut off from their usual gathering places, and dealing with feelings of panic, fear or anxiety.

KPCW held a  virtual round table last week, where we talked with three professionals in the field.

Summit County’s Director of Behavioral Health, Aaron Newman said they’ve certainly seen an increase of citizens reporting anxiety, especially in the past week with workers laid off or furloughed.       

“And just trying to have that sense of, “Well, what do I do now? Who can I talk to?”  Before this call, I was in a conversation with the director of Uni Park City, who said that they’re probably close to about, not quite 15 to 20 percent increase.   But they’re definitely anticipating over the next week seeing that get close to that.”

Newman said they’re working to continue services—for instance, providing school-based access for the few students who cannot use tele-health.

The county’s Mental Health Alliance, in partnership with their contractor, Healthy U Behavioral, started a support group program called “Water Cooler Conversations”.     It’s available on “zoom.com” and Newman said the county’s Facebook page will have information on future sessions.

And just recently, the county held its entire Drug Court proceeding on “zoom.com”

Another participant in our discussion was Allison Page, who runs a therapy program called “Trailtalk” which is reaching out through e-newsletters, Instagram and “Tips For the Trail” videos.     She talked about her approach to the situation.         

“Really, we’ve got to give ourselves permission to vocalize our fears, and at the same time, learning how to self-regulate.   Because if we allow our emotions to guide our decision-making, we’re gonna get ourselves in trouble.   And so, it’s really learning how to think and feel at the same time.  But I think the first thing is really—understanding this is scary.  There’s a lot of unknowns.   And adults are scared, their children are scared.  So talking about it in a way that’s developmentally appropriate, letting the children and teens and our loved ones know that we’re in this together, that we’re here and we will develop some new creative ways of this new Normal.”

One of the exercises she recommends, to be mindful in the present moment, is called “5-4-3-2-1”.    That is, as you may be walking about, focus on five items you can see, four sounds, three items you can feel, two smells, and one you can taste.      

“And so, as you’re doing that, you don’t have a chance to time-travel to the past or to the future—woulda, coulda, shoulda, or worst-case scenarios.   Cause when you’re in the present moment, you gotta really pay attention to your five senses.  And so, it’s called beginner’s mind.  When you go out walking your dog.  I mean, how many times do we do the same route, over and over and over.  This time, go out as if you’ve never seen the place before, and look for 5-4-3-2-1.   And see if you can identify the-“Oh, I never noticed that.  Oh my gosh, isn’t that cool”  And then, when you’re in the present moment, it does really decrease your anxiety, because fear resides in the past and in the future.”

Finally, Anne Asman, who is Chair of the Summit County Aging Alliance, talked about helping out isolated seniors in the community.    One concept she recommended is called “Be Together at a Distance.”        

“Do face time.   Reach out, and surprise someone who is at work of social isolation, even if you may not be that close to them.  Do Facebook.   Reach out to some of your Facebook friends and share something that engaged you today.  And then the old-fashioned way—call someone who you know may be at risk of social isolation and ask how they’re doing.  Have a topic of conversation.  Get them engaged.   It doesn’t necessarily need to be about their plight or what’s going on in the world.  It could be about one of their hobbies, or one of their interests, or just about something to do with the natural world.”

She also advised helping out seniors you know by making sure they have a food supply, carry out wellness checks and when you can, help them to sit outside where they can interact with others.

Finally, we asked about the mental aspects of grocery hoarding.    Allison Page said she thinks that calmer emotions will prevail, but the behavior is understandable.        

“It’s not surprising that some people just feel the need to make sure they can hunker down and survive through the upcoming Armageddon.  It’s really a world view.   And I think it’s going to mellow out.  I think people are starting to realize that we will have toilet paper.   It’s not—this is not cholera.  It’s not in the water supply.  So I think that because there’s so many unknowns, I think it was just a panic.  It’s gonna mellow out a little bit.  There’s now some uniformity in how we’re accessing our resources.   And I just think it was mayhem for awhile.”

Therapist Allison Page, along with Aaron Newman from Summit County and gerontologist Anne Asman.

Known for getting all the facts right, as well as his distinctive sign-off, Rick covered Summit County meetings and issues for 35 years on KPCW. He now heads the Friday Film Review team.
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