Seeking Mental Health Services

In addition to the tragic loss of life caused by COVID-19, the pandemic has taken an enormous toll on our mental health. Few people have ever experienced anything close to the stress, anxiety, and restrictions this dreadful virus has brought to us all. The worry of contracting the disease, the isolation from family and friends, and the fear of being exposed in public settings have changed all our lives in ways we never anticipated.

Studies show the pandemic has caused a major uptick in mental health problems. Doctors report many of their patients are suffering from mild to severe depression and anxiety because of the pandemic. Fear has caused many of us to avoid necessary medical tests, such as mammograms, prostate screenings, and even routine blood work. I have witnessed it with many of my friends. They feel helpless in these very trying times.

But there is help available. No matter where you may live, mental health services are available to help you get through this difficult period. These services may be as close as your computer or telephone, located at a nearby hospital or associated with a church or other religious-based organization. Some are free services, others may have fees, and many are covered by Medicare or Medicaid or your private health insurance.

Here’s how to find mental health services:

Start with your primary care physician. Your primary care doctor is a good starting point. Frankly discuss what you are feeling. Ask for suggestions or referrals to the best mental health professionals in your area that might be appropriate for your needs. Don’t be surprised if the doctor suggests a non-physician such as a licensed social worker, psychologist, guidance counselor, or stress management classes run by county or municipal health departments.

Widen your search. There are many possible sources of counseling and stress management you should check out. Many people turn to their pastor, rabbi, or other religious leaders for counseling. You may also find services at locally run senior centers. Check with your local Department of Welfare or Area Agency on Aging (most counties have one) for a list of available services. Go online or have someone search for mental health services in your area.

Seeking specialized help. There are numerous mental health support programs when you may be suffering from severe stress or anxiety. Call 911 if you are feeling suicidal and you’ll be connected to a trained professional to help you. There are special services for veterans that can be accessed through the Veterans Administration and/or county government. These services can be found online. Search for “mental health services in your community”.

Friends can help. For the past two years, I have participated in free Zoom calls with two groups of friends each week. One call has up to 18 of us on together. The other has about eight. We are spread out across the country, and these calls help ease the isolation we have all felt since the pandemic began. We support each other and try to help each other if we are encountering problems. Frankly, the two weekly calls are the best therapy I feel I have had throughout this ordeal. If you don’t know how to do a Zoom call, just ask your grandchildren or a neighbor kid to help you get connected.

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