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April 11, 2021

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In Our View: Caring for mental health also vital in pandemic

The Columbian
Published:

It’s time to check in — just a friendly reminder that we are all in this together.

As the coronavirus pandemic nears one year of economic shutdowns and social distancing and public health concerns, we are reminded of one of the biggest victims of COVID-19 — our mental health. Even as coronavirus vaccines are distributed and many Clark County residents find some sense of relief in receiving inoculations, the stress of the pandemic continues to linger.

As Kristen Willeumier wrote this week for Psychology Today: “While quarantine and social distancing have been necessary to prevent the virus from spreading, the adverse health effects can bring up feelings of loneliness, which can profoundly impact our mental health and well-being.” She notes that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say social isolation can increase vulnerability to dementia by as much as 50 percent.

This a double-edged sword. The pandemic has especially isolated our neighbors who have underlying health conditions and are particularly concerned about the virus. Those people often are most susceptible to the impact of isolation and loneliness.

“We know those are two big killers, especially to our elderly,” Lisa Capeloto of CDM Caregiver Services told The Columbian. “We are doing our best to keep them from going down that rabbit hole of isolation.”

Surveys have revealed increased anxiety, stress and thoughts of suicide among all demographics of Americans. Whether dealing with pandemic-caused job loss or health concerns or simply the stress of upended daily routines, our mental health is being tested. Although many business restrictions have been eased, social outlets remain limited for many of us.

A U.S. Census Bureau survey in December found that 42 percent of people reported symptoms of anxiety or depression — up from 11 percent the previous year. “I don’t think this is going to go back to baseline anytime soon,” clinical psychologist Luana Marques of Harvard Medical School said.

In Clark County, several resources are available:

• Clark County Mental Health Crisis Services can be reached at 800-626-8137.

• The Southwest Washington chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness can be reached at 360-695-2823 or www.namiswwa.org.

• And Clark County Teen Talk provides “nonjudgmental support for teens, by teens” at 360-397-2428, by text at 360-984-0936 or online at clark.wa.gov/community-services/teen-talk.

The United States passed a harrowing milestone this week, with more than 500,000 deaths attributed to COVID-19 since its arrival less than a year ago. And more than 28 million infections have been confirmed.

While the numbers have declined in most locations in recent weeks — including Clark County — and while vaccines offer hope, the stress will linger long after the pandemic is declared over.

The situation has — and likely will continue to — exposed weaknesses in the U.S. health care system, with those most in need often the least likely to receive care. It especially has exposed shortcomings in our mental health system.

Those issues require long-term attention from policymakers. In the meantime, we urge everybody to pay attention to their mental health and the health of friends and loved ones. For those in crisis, help in available.

Checking in with those around us can pay big dividends. After all, we’re in this together.

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