Mental health experts answer questions

Alyssa Coleman, Features Editor

Johnstown mental health experts gave insight into mental health during the COVID-19 in a question and answer forum Feb. 9.

In a webinar moderated by Tribune Democrat Editor-in-Chief Chip Minemeyer, Croyle-Nielson Therapudic Associates of Johnstown and Somerset clinical director Angie Richard and clinical psychologist Dr. Mary Berge discussed how individuals’ mental health is being impacted by COVID-19.

Richard said there are numerous amounts of mental health challenges that have seen an increase since the start of the pandemic last year.

She said feelings of tiredness, hope, depression, anger and fear are the main emotions people have been displaying.

“It’s a roller coaster,” she said. “There’s more agitation among families, couples and the workplace. “There’s different levels of grief. We feel like we’ve lost so much.”

Berge said how COVID-19 mentally affects people differs for everyone.

“We’ve seen an increase in anxiety, depression and stress,” she said. “Those are the three most global feelings and impacts. It’s a real mixed bag depending what’s going on.”

Berge said that incorrect information regarding COVID-19 is the primary source of stress during this time.

“Limit the amount of COVID-19 information you take in a day,” Berge said. “There are many different sources and opinions and chatter which can confuse and stress people; use reliable sources and limit the amount of negativity.”

Richard said people should only get their COVID-19 information from scientists and reliable sources.

“Before you share information on Facebook, fact check it,” she said. “Just because (something) happened to someone else, doesn’t mean it’s going to happen to you.”

Berge said creating a routine is important for mental health and that even creating an in-home commute, since many normal commutes and routines have been lost during the pandemic, can help reduce stress.

Berge and Richard also discussed the topic of grief during the pandemic and how it affects mental health as well.

“We all lost something during this pandemic,” Berge said. “Whether it be loved ones, financial loss or a job. There is no type of loss higher or smaller than anyone else’s. To each of us, our losses are important.”

Richard said the loss of jobs, friends and businesses, among other things, is making people frustrated and tired.

“It just hits you,” she said. “You need to recognize your emotions in your body and focus on what is happening right now. It’s ok to be vulnerable. It’s ok not to be ok right now.”

Berge said people should not shame or judge others who are suffering from the virus or who are grieving from a loss due to the virus.

“Be supportive, be yourself and be a friend,” she said. “Be kind. Kindness goes a long way.”

Richard said it is important to act immediately when someone is having a mental health crisis.

“Ask direct and indirect questions and check in with that person,” she said. “Ask indirect questions such as, ‘How have you been lately?’. Or you can just be direct and ask, ‘Some people think about dying…are you?’, and ‘Are you thinking about killing yourself?,”

“Don’t beat around the bush. Absolutely do not say suicide is stupid. There should be no judgement. Sit down with them and help them through the crisis.”

Another webinar dealing with mental health concerns among children is to take place Feb. 16.

The suicide prevention hotline is available to anyone suffering a mental health crisis at 1-800-273-8255.