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Mental health issues, concerns on the rise amid pandemic

By JOHN REECER


Featuring Keri Williams, Program Director for Senior Perspective at The Medical Center’s locations in Scottsville and Franklin, Kentucky.

May has been nationally recognized as Mental Health Awareness Month since 1949, but the topic of mental health has taken on even greater significance in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Med Center Health’s Keri Williams said the pandemic has fueled an uptick in mental health issues nationally and locally. “We have seen that COVID-19 has had a profound impact on the public’s mental health,” Williams said. “In 2020, four out of 10 adults reported signs of anxiety and depression. That’s up from one out of 10 in 2019. We have seen similar trends here as well.” Williams is senior perspective program director for The Medical Center’s locations in Scottsville and Franklin, and she also serves people in Bowling Green.


The program concentrates on providing group counseling and therapy for senior adults who may be having a difficult time. Williams’ program is led by masters-level therapists, and they also provide transportation for people who live within a 40-mile radius. The program was suspended for a few months last year amid the pandemic, but it has since returned and Williams said it is serving more people than ever. With seniors considered one of the most at-risk groups for significant harm due to COVID-19, they have also been at very high risk for mental issues as well. “These elderly people were severely isolated over the past year,” Williams said. “They aren’t the most tech-savvy, so that hasn’t been a good route to communicate with others as well. Everyone is just so tired of dealing with this pandemic”


The worries concerning mental health and COVID-19 don’t stop with the present. The Hill recently reported that Oxford researchers examined 70 million U.S. health records and found that almost one in five Americans who have had COVID-19 were later diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder such as anxiety, depression or insomnia, and even psychosis. PTSD is also another cause for concern after the pandemic ends as survivors of other large-scale disasters have reported symptoms that stem from the stressful event. It’s a concern for Williams as well. “PTSD may be a large problem moving forward,” Williams said. “Fear plays a large part on mental health. What I’m seeing is just a lot of fear of the unknown and worry which still exists.”


Despite great concern with the long-lasting effects of COVID-19, there are avenues to handle one’s mental health in a positive way. The first, crucial step is to search for appropriate assistance from professionals. “People just need to reach out,” Williams said. “Studies show that 60% to 90% of people who look for treatment report positive results. I feel one of the most important things for people to realize is that seeking help is not a sign of weakness – it’s a sign of strength.” That negative stigma surrounding mental illness is why Williams said recognizing May as Mental Health Awareness Month is so important. To encourage people to reach out, that stigma needs to be beaten. Williams said she even struggled a bit mentally during the pandemic as her family was forced to cancel several planned trips. In place of those trips, Williams and her husband went on long drives with each other, and she exercised daily. “Walking around outside and getting exercise are great outlets,” Williams said. “Mediation is also a great avenue as well as being cognizant of one’s breathing. Find some things you enjoy, and have some fun. Promote social connections. I also feel that technology has been one of the positives from COVID.”


Williams also said that listening is one of the most positive actions people can take right now. Listening and talking about one’s depression and anxiety with friends and family could be greatly beneficial. For those in southcentral Kentucky seeking or who will be seeking help, Med Center Health has multiple programs and psychiatrists on hand to treat mental health.


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