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Here’s exactly how COVID-19 impacted mental health

Stressors increased - but so did opportunities for addressing them

If the COVID-19 pandemic did anything for mental health, it gave it a good dose of awareness, two Will County mental health experts feel.

And one more Will County school district is now offering mental health resources for its families, too, even as providers found creative ways of helping people in need or services.

“This past year has been unprecedented in so many ways,” Scott Hullinger, CEO of Silver Oaks Behavioral Hospital in New Lenox and a licensed clinical social worker with extensive experience in the inpatient and outpatient behavioral health services field, said in a news release from Silver Oaks. “None of us has been through a pandemic before. It was critical that we adapt and find new ways of helping people. And we did.”

To keep those lines of communication open, even people who eschewed or felt clumsy with technology because “avid Zoomers” by taking advantage of individual and group telehealth sessions on Zoom, he said in the release.

Those sessions were most likely a lifeline to some people, he feels.

“One in five adults in the nation experiences some form of mental illness each year,” Hullinger said in the release. “The problem is, less than half seek treatment. The overall suicide rate in the U.S. has increased by 35 percent since 1999, and suicide is now the second leading cause of death among those ages 10 to 34 and the 10th leading cause of death overall in the U.S.”

Hullinger said that the loss of jobs and income and remote learning added more stress to those already struggling with their mental health while others experienced depression and anxiety for the first time.

“A big problem is the stigma associated with mental illness,” Hullinger said in the release. “It has gotten better over the years, but it’s still there. We have to let people know what they are feeling likely is common and is treatable by mental health professionals.”

The other problem is a lack of mental health providers. In the release, Hullinger said that, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness 55 percent of U.S. counties lack a practicing psychiatrist and that it may time years before the number of providers increase to meet the need.

“We have to find a way to let people know there are all kinds of jobs in the mental health field,” Hullinger said in the release. “Not all are at hospitals. Some are in schools, in mobile units and clinics.”

In the meantime, Plainfield Community Consolidated School District 202 is offering two new counseling tools to its families for this summer, according to a news release from the district.

One, the ReferralGPS online system, is “a searchable database of treatment options based on the family’s home address,” the release said. The second is a partnership with Hargrove Behavioral Health System to provide general counseling services.

The ReferralGPS online system can help District 202 families find local treatment and resources for mental health and substance abuse and appointments, It can also help with triage. Information taken is anonymous and confidential.

Contact referralgps.com/find-help/PSD202.

Hargrove offers individual, family and group therapy in-person and virtually. Call or text 779-252-4090 or email hartgrove@psd202.org.

In addition, Valley View Community Unit School District 365U has partnered with Care Solace to help provide referrals for mental health care for the VVSD community. VVSD families can connect with Care Solace at caresolace.com/site/vvsd.

In addition, Trinity Services’ Living Room is open s days a week, 365 days a year. Hours are 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. The Living Room is located at 14315 S. 108th Ave., Suite 222, in Orland Park.

The Living Room program is a “safe, welcoming environment to deescalate from mental health or daily life stressors” in a home-like environment and the process the crisis and apply wellness strategies, according to a news release from Trinity Services.

It is one of more than 20 similar programs throughout the state that is part of the Illinois Department of Human Services’ Division of Mental Health Living Room Program.

For more information about the Living Room, call 708-981-3370 or email program director Carl Indovina at cindovina@trinityservices.org.

Dr. Joseph Troiani, behavioral health director for the Will County Health Department, said some of the coping methods used during the pandemic – such as is increased involvement as a family, bird watching or gardening – can also positively affect people’s mental health as the world comes out of the pandemic.

Barbara Manning, board-certified chaplain in at Silver Cross Hospital in New Lenox, offered a few suggestions in a news release to cope with losses, whether that loss was an actual person through death or the loss of job, social interactions, planned vacations or financial security.

Manning suggested caring for one’s body through healthy food, sufficient sleep and some form of exercise to release endorphins: yoga, housework, biking, walking, gardening. Be kind to one’s mind by feeing it positive thoughts and making room for humor, such as watching a silly movie.

She also suggested nurturing one’s spirit by engaging in activities that contribute to a sense or purpose. For some people that can done by religious beliefs. Others might find solace or spiritual care in prayer, mediation or art.

Manning feels people should also take time to name, discuss and release feelings and actively listening to the feelings of others without giving advice. Break isolation by joining a support group and finding strength in other support systems: family, friends, neighbors churches, she said in the release.

“People are social beings,” Manning said in the news release from Silver Cross. “We are not meant to be isolated. We need community and support systems. Bereavement support groups are wonderful because everyone there has walked the journey that you are walking when you are grieving the loss of a loved one.”

Troiani hopes the supportive way people communicated with each other during the pandemic will continue as society keeps opening up.

“One way we responded during the pandemic,” Troiani said in a news release from the health department, “was we deliberately reached out and connected over the phone, e-mail or the internet. With all the limitations we had, there was less ‘I’ll get back to you later’ and more ‘I need to talk to you.’ So let’s keep doing that, let’s keep reaching out, as we certainly have the technology to do so.”

Hullinger feels the full mental health aspect effects of the pandemic might not be fully understood for years to come and that people should continue to protect their mental health and address any issues that may arise.

“As things continue to open up, I don’t expect people to be OK immediately. I believe it will be a long process,” Hullinger said in the release. “But it’s a step in the right direction.”