Pandemic Increases Mental Health Challenges in the Chippewa Valley
by Karen Kraus, HSHS Sacred Heart and St. Joseph’s Hospitals and Prevea Health Public Relations Specialist
March 2020 was when Wisconsin and the world stopped, so to speak, because the COVID-19 pandemic was taking hold in our local communities. This meant individuals and families stayed home, work became remote from kitchen tables and spare bedrooms and many people with mental health conditions faced one more challenge.
Fast forward a little more than one year, and it’s estimated that 188,000 adults and 60,000 children in Wisconsin are living with a mental health disorder, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). NAMI also finds that only half of those individuals affected receive treatment.
“Often people feel embarrassment or shame in seeking mental health services. People cannot access services easily or they don’t even know where to turn for help,” says Laura Baalrud, outreach facilitator with HSHS Sacred Heart and St. Joseph’s hospitals. “It’s really important that we end the stigma and talk openly about mental health.”
Baalrud says mental health disorders are not an individual’s fault or the result of one event, but rather multiple, linking causes such as environment, lifestyle, genetics and traumatic life events.
Since the pandemic began, Prevea Behavioral Care Counselor Michaela Livingston says clients are reporting more anxiety, more depression, and more intensified loneliness.
“It’s really difficult to hear the stories and exacerbated struggles,” she says. “With our day-to-day routine being very much disrupted, it’s difficult to find a ‘new norm’ and many people struggle to adapt to change. Many people haven’t been able to share celebrations or mourn losses with one another – times where connection with others is very important.”
Livingston also says COVID-19 has meant a relapse in progress or development of a new risky behavior for some.
“It’s common for people to numb the pain of depression or anxiety by turning to things that make them feel good, even for a short time,” says Livingston. “Now we are not only dealing with mental health challenges, but also potential drug and alcohol abuse, more frequent thoughts of suicide, changes in mood and behaviors – all things detrimental to treatment.”
NAMI reports 19 percent of U.S. adults with mental illness also have a substance use disorder. Poor mental health also increases risk for chronic disease like diabetes or cancer.
“It’s often difficult to have the energy or even care enough to think about your physical health when you are trying to manage your emotions and daily ups and downs,” says Baalrud, who teaches Question. Persuade. Refer (QPR) classes in the Chippewa Valley.
“This is a suicide prevention training that helps community members identify the signs that someone may be developing a concern with their mental health,” says Baalrud. “Just like physical health, the sooner a person seeks treatment the better the chance for a positive outcome.”
Some common signs of mental health disorders in adults and adolescents can include:
• Excessive worrying or fear
• Problems concentrating
• Extreme mood changes
• Lapse in activities once considered enjoyable
• Suicidal thoughts, behaviors or language
• Changes in eating and sleeping habits
Help can be one conversation, one call, or one click away. There are many resources available in the Chippewa Valley for those seeking help for themselves or a loved one. For more information about these resources, and for detailed information about mental health disorders, visit NAMI.org or Prevea Behavioral Care. To learn more about free, virtual QPR training classes, visit Classes and Events on the HSHS Sacred Heart Hospital website.