DENTON - While Coronavirus can cause concerns about physical health, the CDC suggested it is important to monitor changes in mental health during this pandemic.
In Denton, there are currently 206 confirmed Coronavirus cases, and three related deaths. 50 of these cases are at the Denton State Supported Living Center. It can be easy to become overwhelmed watching the cases in your county increase each day. As testing capabilities grow, these numbers will likely continue to increase.
The CDC warned that the onset of this pandemic can cause an increase in stress and anxiety. New diseases like COVID-19 can cause fear among children and adults. Some responses may include changes in sleeping patterns, appetite, increased irritability, and an increase in use of alcohol or drugs. You may even begin to experience psychosomatic symptoms like headaches, stomach pains, body aches, or rashes.
Licensed Denton counselor, Carrie Breedlove, said these actions should not be associated with judgment. Additionally, during this pandemic, people may begin to think about death more, Breedlove said. But, it is not uncommon to have thoughts of dying, or suicide, especially if someone already has suffered from mental illness. Breedlove said it is important to destigmatize these conversations, and to be open about these concerns.
"Expect big responses to a big event," Breedlove said.
Many mental health professionals have shifted to digital platforms to provide counseling sessions, including Breedlove. She had experience with digital sessions before COVID-19, but has since shifted her entire practice online. Mental health providers are considered an essential business, but Breedlove said most of her colleagues have switched as well. Breedlove said there are benefits and challenges to providing telehealth.
Breedlove said that people may feel an increased level of safety and comfort from digital sessions because they do not pose additional threats of exposure to the virus. These platforms are readily accessible with compatible devices and wifi. If her client's struggle with platforms like Zoom, she offers extra time during sessions to help them get used to the new delivery method. Digital sessions also allow people to be flexible with their schedules, she said.
However, there can be some challenges to telehealth. Breedlove's primary concern is that at some point, a client may experience a mental health crisis. As opposed to an in-person session, she cannot physically be with her client to guide them through which resources to use. Because of this, she said she asks each of her client's for their physical address so she has a location to provide emergency services if needed. Additionally, some individuals needing assistance may not have the means to access compatible technology.
Finally, eye contact changes digitally. Often in order to look at a person on a screen, you must look at the camera. Looking at the camera can prevent you from seeing the person, and
their non-verbal cues which are already harder to catch over the internet, Breedlove said.
Several outlets are available to express concerns you may have during this time, including mental health professionals across the city of Denton and county. Denton County MHMR provides resources within the county ranging from crisis intervention, to individual therapy. Students at TWU or UNT have access to digital sessions or phone consults through their university's counseling centers.
Associate Director of the UNT Meadows Center, Kerry Stanhope, emphasized the importance of establishing a routine. Stanhope said that people are "creatures of habit" and tend to benefit from structure. Having an expectation for each day can relieve some stress and anxiety, but it is important to also be patient with how your mind adjusts, Stanhope said.
"Mental health is just as important as physical health," Stanhope said. "We are quarantined to save our physical health, but also want to make sure we are focusing on mental health."
Stanhope recommended nurturing relationships that you have in your life, even if it is only possible over digital platforms. He said it is important not to underestimate the power of social interaction online. Additionally, some healthy coping mechanisms include meditation, journaling, working out, cuddling a pet, or just watching a funny show on Netflix.
Individuals that previously suffered with mental illness before the pandemic may notice worsening symptoms, Stanhope said. If this occurs, contact your mental health provider, Stanhope said. You may need a change in medication, or benefit from virtual therapy. Crisis resources are available. If you are in an emergency, remember to call 911. Your life is valued, and someone is willing to help you at all times.
"This is not the new normal," Stanhope said. "It's just something we have to get through."
Denton County MHMR: Crisis (800) 762- 0157
National Crisis Hotline: (800) 273- 8255 Textline: 741741 "Connect"
Denton County Friends of the Family Crisis Hotline: (940) 382- 7273
Denton Police Non-Emergency: (940) 349- 8181