How to deal with COVID’s toll on mental health

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ST. LOUIS — As the COVID-19 rates in the St. Louis area neared an all-time high, the toll on mental health continued to build for many residents heading into the new year.

According to the St. Louis Pandemic Task Force, the region is seeing the highest number of hospitalizations since December 2020.

In St. Louis County, officials report the seven-day average of COVID cases as of Sunday is 1,574. That is the highest level since the pandemic began.

“Yes, there’s increased anxiety and inconvenience in our life, but hey, we made it through,” said Dr. Kyle John, the medical director for behavioral health at Mercy. “It’s maybe that mind over matter approach of, ‘Gosh, I dealt with it once, twice, so I’m resilient.'”

But there are ways to navigate these challenges.

“If you haven’t tried things like daily exercise, a healthy diet, positive self-affirmations, a self-help book,” said John. “There are a lot of options that are online, that are on our phone, that are available to us.”

The anxiety over the high numbers hitting home for students and parents alike.

“The stress between the pandemic and stuff that I’ve been having is worrying about if schools are going to be closing,” said eighth-grader Trinity Cooley.

“I’m in the car all the time and between doctor appointments and everything else,” said Jennifer Grant, a mom who lives in Belleville. “Sometimes, I feel like I’m about to have a mental breakdown.”

The stress is hitting teachers too.

“I definitely get a heaviness in my chest. I had panic attacks for a while where I would wake up in the middle of the night, and I would have dizzy spells,” said HopeMark Preschool teacher Jessie Bahr. “I never experienced those before the pandemic, and they were terrifying.”

Bt working out, using breathing techniques and therapy, Bahr has helped ease her worries.

“That stigma is being reduced, more people are seeking care and that’s a positive thing,” said John.

He also points to sticking to a structured routine. If you or someone you know need more assistance, therapy can be a great resource.

The following resources are available:

  • BJC Behavioral Health Response Line at 314-469-6644.
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has a Disaster Distress Helpline that provides 24/7 crisis counseling and support to people experiencing emotional distress related to natural or human-caused disasters. Just call 800-985-5990. It’s available 24/7.
  • The National Alliance on Mental Illness operates a helpline that provides information on mental health conditions, treatment options, local programs, recovery strategies, resource referral, and support. Contact the helpline at 800-950-6264 (Monday-Friday 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. EST).

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