Now that many aspects of society are reopening after mass vaccinations and a downward trend of COVID-19 infections, a new kind of apprehension has arrived.
Before, there was stress of adjusting to isolation and changed routines. Now it’s struggles with picking up those routines while still fearful of a sometimes-deadly disease which hasn’t yet or may never be wiped out.
People are beginning to process what’s happened the past year, and it’s exhausting for them. At the Behavioral Health Urgent Care at SSM Health in Bridgeton, on the campus of SSM Health DePaul Hospital, recent patients include people who have had a loved one die of COVID-19. They’re just starting to process going forward with the anxiety or depression that ensued.
One patient, for example, had not been to a family function since COVID hit. When he attended a birthday celebration, he was stressed and depressed being without his grandfather, who had died during the COVID-19 pandemic.
A poll in early May 2020 of more than 3,100 WebMD readers found that 26% said they felt a sense of trauma from COVID-19, with 25% afraid to go to the store and 15% afraid to leave their house. The poll also found that 77% had not sought counseling.
Anxiety over reopening
“We absolutely are prepared to see an increase in people using the urgent care,” said Amy Konsewicz, behavioral health services manager at SSM Health DePaul Hospital. “We’re seeing anxiety over reopening.”
Other examples include patients who are dealing with financial burdens due to a loss of work. Pediatric patients in particular have been affected by the changes in their routines, with their development affected by the isolation.
Sometimes the wait list is long for community providers. So the urgent care provides supportive care immediately, such as a refill on medications or a connection to a therapist.
Tom Duff, executive director of Saint Louis Counseling, reports that any transition has a level of stress. As people switch routines, even back to an old routine, they will have some anxiety. “We’re still wondering if vaccines work, worried about whether co-workers received it, or whether we are more likely to get some type of sickness now because we’re around people,” he said.
Getting re-acclimated with others could be difficult, too.
The pandemic helped people understand the importance of mental health, Duff explained. “We all have mental health just like we all have physical health. Some people have a mental illness such as depression or anxiety. A lot of people realized during the course of the year that their mental health was affected. It doesn’t mean that they had an actual diagnosis, but their mood has been down, they felt sad or isolated. They realized that things that are prolonged stressors can affect their mood.”
When people were told to stay home and refrain from socializing, they missed gathering with one another, Duff said.
As a federated agency of Catholic Charities and part of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, Saint Louis Counseling is an example of the outreach of the Church to help people, whether they are Catholic or not, Duff said. “We’re here to serve all because that’s what we’re called to do as a faith.”
The spiritual side to counseling is a huge component, he added. A lot of times when people hit rock bottom, they are saying ‘Lord, help me find a way.’ And a lot of times, counseling is how that’s found.”
SSM Health’s Behavioral Health Urgent Care “is a great partnership that has been formed for the entire community,” Duff said. “If we look at mental health as just as important as physical health that means we want to see a professional as soon as possible. A lot of times therapists can be booked up with caseloads and it’s hard to get someone in during an emergency. This provides an opportunity or outlet for a person in crisis to walk in and be seen by someone.”
The urgent care opened in August of 2020, with an increase of people struggling with the pandemic and a need for a specialized place for behavioral health patients. Emergency rooms are prepared for patients with mental health issues, but the new SSM Health’s Behavioral Health Urgent Care has additional resources.
Konsewicz, the urgent care manager, said: “Often our patients take and need a different approach. It’s a very holistic and comprehensive approach with not just a psychiatric provider but also a therapist and nurse to support the patient. It has been a tremendous asset to the community in that it keeps our behavioral health patients out of the emergency department.”
As a walk-in clinic, the urgent care is available for people when they are ready to seek treatment. They’re given a full assessment and support and are linked to a community mental health provider with an appointment within 48-72 hours.
One of the partners in SSM Health’s urgent care center is Queen of Peace Center, a federated agency of Catholic Charities of St. Louis that provides family centered behavioral health care for women with substance use disorders, co-occurring disorders and trauma. Sharon Spruell, CEO of Queen of Peace Center, said that “by developing strong community partnerships, SSM has ensured that once a client receives treatment in the urgent care center, they are quickly linked to high-quality ongoing treatment to remain on a path to wellness. … It is an essential resource for those who may not know where else to turn for help.”
Healing presence of God
The staff members live the SSM Health mission of providing the healing presence of God by treating patients whose symptoms can often be overwhelming to other people. Konsewicz relayed that “we go into behavioral health because we care about their unique circumstances. Just like our founding sisters, we are compassionate and respectful of all of our patients regardless of where they are in their mental health journey.”
A member of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque Parish in south St. Louis County, Konsewicz said working in behavioral health at times can be difficult because of dealing with so many emotions. “As a clinician, I tend to absorb other people’s emotions and I try to serve them the best way possible, often at my own expense. I remind myself that this is my purpose. This is what God pushed me to do — to serve people and to be the shoulder they need in their time of trauma.”
>> Take care of yourself
The National Alliance on Mental Health offers 10 ways to take care of your mental health
1. Talk about your feelings — It helps you deal with times when you feel troubled. It isn’t a sign of weakness. Talking can be a way to cope with a problem you’ve had for a while. Just being listened to can help you feel supported and less alone.
2. Keep active — Regular exercise can boost your self-esteem and help you concentrate, sleep and feel better. Exercise keeps the brain and your other vital organs healthy. Experts believe exercise releases chemicals in your brain that make you feel good.
3. Eat well — Your brain needs a mix of nutrients in order to stay healthy and function well, just like the other organs in your body. Eat lots of different types of fruit and vegetables, wholegrain cereals or bread, nuts and seeds, dairy products and oily fish. Eat at least three meals each day and drink plenty of water. Try to limit high-caffeine or sugary drinks.
4. Drink sensibly — We often drink alcohol to change our mood. Some people drink to deal with fear or loneliness, but the effect is only temporary. When the drink wears off, you feel worse because of the way the alcohol has affected your brain and the rest of your body. Drinking is not a good way to manage difficult feelings. Nicotine and drugs also don’t solve problems, they create them.
5. Keep in touch — There’s nothing better than catching up with someone face to face, but that’s not always possible. You can also give them a call, drop them a note, or chat to them online instead. Keep the lines of communication open: it’s good for you!
6. Ask for help — None of us are superhuman. We all sometimes get tired or overwhelmed by how we feel or when things don’t go to plan. If things are getting too much for you and you feel you can’t cope, ask for help. Your family or friends may be able to offer practical help or a listening ear. Local services are there to help you.
7. Take a break — A change of scene or a change of pace is good for your mental health. It could be a five-minute pause from cleaning your kitchen, a half-hour lunch break at work, or a weekend exploring somewhere new. A few minutes can be enough to de-stress you. Give yourself some ‘me time’.
8. Do something you’re good at — What do you love doing? What activities can you lose yourself in? What did you love doing in the past? Enjoying yourself can help beat stress. Doing an activity you enjoy probably means you’re good at it, and achieving something boosts your self-esteem.
9. Accept who you are — We’re all different. It’s much healthier to accept that you’re unique than to wish you were more like someone else. Feeling good about yourself boosts your confidence to learn new skills, visit new places and make new friends. Good self-esteem helps you cope when life takes a difficult turn.
10. Care for others— Friends are really important. We help each other whenever we can, so it’s a two-way street, and supporting them uplifts me.’ Caring for others is often an important part of keeping up relationships with people close to you. It can even bring you closer together.
>> Signs you need a break or help
At the least, you need to take a day off work if:
> Stress at work is affecting your appetite.
> You’re dealing with more anxiety than normal.
> You have trouble sleeping, even though you’re tired.
> You keep getting sick, or you’re ignoring your physical health.
> You can’t think clearly and it’s affecting your job performance.
> Stress at work affects your relationships with friends and family.
> You’re having difficulties managing your emotions due to stress at work.
> You’re dealing with a difficult life event, like the death of a loved one or a divorce.
> You have a mental health condition, like anxiety or depression, and need to see a doctor or therapist.
Once you’ve talked to your boss and secured your day off, make a plan so you can maximize your time. Focus on a life improvement you can make that day. Maybe you need more sleep, or maybe more time outdoors. Consider taking a exercise class, reconnecting with friends, journaling or taking a quick day trip. It is most important to spend your day in a way that helps improve your mindset.
If you live with mental health conditions like anxiety and depression, a mental health day or two may not be enough. Visit a care provider to learn more about mental health services and make an appointment with a specialist.
>> Where to find help
People can and do recover from mental illness. Recovery is the ability to live a fulfilling and productive life, to be a member of a community despite the continuing challenges of living with mental illness.
Guided by the teachings of Jesus Christ, Saint Louis Counseling supports healing and improved mental health for individuals and families of all backgrounds through professional counseling and psychiatric services.
In the past year, Saint Louis Counseling went from all in-person, to all-virtual to a hybrid of providing services both ways. Last fall, school therapists returned to Catholic schools but most public schools were closed. With offices throughout the archdiocese, Saint Louis Counseling adjusted to each county’s safety measures regarding COVID-19.
Now, counseling is provided according to the clients’ preferences. Telehealth provides a way for clients to attend sessions without arranging transportation and feeling safer when they have deep-seated issues. Downsides include the difficulty of talking freely without the privacy of an office.
For information, visit saintlouiscounseling.org. To request an appointment, call (314) 544-3800 or complete a form on the website.
For information on the SSM Health Behavioral Health Urgent Care visit https://bit.ly/3uDOGwB.
Mercy Behavioral Health provides a variety of services. Visit https://bit.ly/3uC7jkF.
The National Catholic Partnership on Disability offers information on mental illness and has a resource entitled “A Pastoral Response to Mental Illness” and a “Mental Illness Theological Framework.” Visit ncpd.org/disability-ministry/mental-illness.