As COVID-19 continues to spread and JCCC prepares for another semester of online courses, many students have found themselves bracing for an unprecedented, socially distanced future. With that distance comes an increased risk of mental health issues. According to a survey conducted by Active Minds among college students, eighty percent of respondents said that COVID-19 has negatively affected their mental health. The pandemic shows no signs of stopping anytime soon, and so we must ask, what can we do to support ourselves during these isolating times.
How is Johnson County Doing
Tim DeWeese, the director of Johnson County Mental Health, has seen an influx of new cases since the pandemic began.
“We have seen roughly a twenty percent increase in the number of calls and emergency contacts that we’ve had within the mental health center,” DeWeese said. We’ve also seen about a thirty percent increase in... emergency assessments that we do with people so, to say it conservatively we’ve seen a significant increase in people accessing or reaching out for services since the pandemic began.”
In June of this year the US saw roughly a forty percent increase in mental health and substance abuse cases, and they’re still on the rise.
“I think it’s safe to say that people aren’t necessarily using the best coping strategies when it comes to managing the pandemic at times,” DeWeese said.
When the pandemic first began, DeWeese thought that the system would quickly be submerged in a tsunami of mental health needs, and while Johson County Mental Health is still available to residents, he’s concerned about the long-term effects of COVID-19.
“I think it’s just going to overflow the mental health system, I think it’ll just kind of be a slow incline and if we don’t pay attention to it, it will be very easy for mental health providers and community health centers to be overwhelmed,” DeWeese said.
DeWeese encourages anyone who is concerned about a loved one to look into “Mental Health First Aid” which aims to train the public on how to recognize the signs of mental health and substance abuse issues. Additional information is available on the Johnson County Mental Health website
What Can We Do to Improve Our Own Mental Health
Johnson County Mental Health has a 24/7 crisis line that’s available to anyone who may be struggling. In addition, there’s a number of individual practices that can help reduce stress and anxiety.
Kim Colegrove, creator of the mindfulness and meditation website The Pause First Project, has also seen an increase of inquiries into her services. Her method of support is to help her students identify strategies to strengthen their mental health and cope with stress.
“If you wanted to improve your physical health, what advice would someone give you? Exercise. I would say if you want to improve your mental health look into these powerful personal practices that you can use to sort of take charge of your own stress,” Colegrove said.
Colegrove has been teaching mindfulness and meditation and has seen a number positive effects since first starting. She’s not the only one, one study conducted by Harvard scientists suggests that those who practice meditation experience lower blood pressure. Colgrove recommends that anyone who’s interested start with breathing exercises, and to look into free resources on the internet.
“If you’re even intrigued then keep seeking other teachers and other people talking about this and learn the power you have to regulate yourself,” Colegrove said. “We have so much more power to regulate ourselves, mentally emotionally physically, by learning these kinds of practices and using these tools.”
We’re all going to be spending some time apart from each other, but that doesn’t mean that we have to be completely isolated. There are people out there who want to help, who want us to do well and live happily, but we need to take the first step and ask.
“I think we also have to understand that we’re all experiencing this for the first time, no one’s ever experienced or been through a pandemic like this and so I think it’s a perfect opportunity for us to show kindness, grace and understanding,” DeWeese said “The fact is we’re all going to experience disappointments and hurdles and barriers in our life, and while this one is one that all of us are experiencing, we will get through this, we will overcome this and there will be opportunities for us in the future, so I think we really have to focus on that and help one another build some resilience.”
Johnson County’s Crisis Hotline is 913-268-0156
The Pause First Project’s free resource page is available here: https://pausefirst.com/free-resources/
By Jason Yearout