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Experts share tips for managing mental health during COVID-19 outbreak

Video counseling and telephone health services are temporarily taking the place of face-to-face visits with mental health processionals, reinforcing the necessity of this service as people across the area deal with added anxiety due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Robin McCutcheon, executive director of Samaritan Counseling Center of Southeast Texas in Port Arthur, said the loss of face-to-face meetings could increase anxiety, so they are reaching out to clients through phone calls and sending note cards to keep in touch.

“For established clients they’re getting a phone call just as they would for regular appointments and when we call, there is an option to move to video or phone call from their counselor,” McCutcheon said.

The phones are still ringing at Samaritan, which is one of the only non-profit health facilities that individuals without insurance can receive services. Due to quick legislative action, many health insurance providers are also waiving regulations to allow Telehealth, she said.

Seeking help

People are reaching out for different reasons, mostly related to the pandemic in some way.

“Last week people were in the mode of trying to provide the immediate needs of groceries and supplies and things like that,” she said. “Now they have all the supplies and there is anxiety of what’s coming next and what their life will look like next week or the coming week.”

Additionally, there are calls from people who lost their job or are furloughed and worry how they will be able to support their family financially.

Take your mind off stressors

McCutcheon said they have a staff member posting tips on social media to help. Not sitting in front of the television is one thing, she said. Other suggestions are to take a walk outside, work in your yard or, if you live in an apartment, go to the park but keep the social distancing, play a card game, limit the television watching so you don’t get caught up.

“Distance yourself from this kind of thing and engage in activities that take your mind off of it,” she said. “One thing we talked about this morning in the meeting is that social distancing does not mean isolation. It is very important to keep engaged with people whether with family at home or friends.”

 Other tips

  • Time outside
  • Pray, meditate, listen to music
  • Dance, move around
  • Board games, card games, work a puzzle
  • Cook, bake, find new recipes with what is in our pantry
  • Keep a routine. Wake up before noon, go to bed before midnight
  • Change out of your jammies
  • Engage with friends and family through phone calls, FaceTime, other social platforms. Call those you have not connected with in a long time.

Social distancing, she said, does not mean social isolation.

Spindletop Center

Spindletop Center has not noted an increase in calls for assistance yet, said Heather Champion, director of business development and quality assurance, but they have set up a coronavirus helpline at 1-800-693-3131 for people who may want help locating assistance.

There is also information at spindletopcenter.org as well.

While they can’t see clients face-to-face, they are working to serve the community.

“Our clinics are reaching out to existing clients by phone and email to check in with them and tell them about our modified operations,” Champion said. “We’ve transitioned most of our services to virtual interactions using telephone and Telehealth to ensure everyone’s safety. All group services have been stopped and we are replacing groups with one-on-one interactions, again by telephone or Telehealth means.”

Champion said with so much uncertainty it can be easy to feel overwhelmed and anxious. She suggested keeping close to a regular routine as much as possible, limiting exposure to news coverage and social media about the coronavirus and stick to trusted sources of fact-based information such as the Centers for Disease Control, the World Health Organization and local public health departments.

She said other tips include eating a well-balanced diet of foods rich in nutrients and get some form of exercise daily.

Crisis

Officer Tommy Smith with the Orange County Sheriff’s Office is a mental health liaison with the ASAP, or Assist, Stabilize And Prevent, which is a multi-jurisdictional program with Spindletop Center. The officers in the program are partnered with a mental health professional and collectively work to help those in crisis overcome barriers to get services and to reduce recidivism in jails.

Smith said a person in crisis doesn’t always mean the person is suicidal — it sometimes means the person is overwhelmed, such as turning on the TV and seeing news of the pandemic everywhere.

The crisis line, which is operated 24 hours a day/seven days a week, is 409-838-1818 or 1-800-937-8097.