‘We are all experiencing this together’: Local mental health group sees a rise in calls for support

 Mental Health issues surrounding coronavirus pandemic
Mental Health issues surrounding coronavirus pandemic (KSFY)
Published: Aug. 3, 2020 at 1:47 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - It’s no secret many of us are experiencing some sort of anxiety or depression during the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Since March 2020 when the virus first arrived in Alaska, things have started to change. Anchorage went through a “Hunker Down” phase, then businesses reopened, only to go into a “Batten Down” phase Aug. 3.

“We are certainly seeing an increase in anxiety among everybody,” Executive Director of NAMI Anchorage Jason Lessard said. “Among people that have an underlying mental condition and just folks in general. There is a lot of uncertainty in the world right now, so I think that puts a lot of us on edge.”

According to its website, “NAMI (the National Alliance on Mental Illness) advocates for access to services, treatment, supports, and research and is steadfast in its commitment to raising awareness and building a community of hope for all of those in need.”

Lessard says some of the coping strategies NAMI could recommend to people experiencing anxiety on a regular basis are the same it would recommend to the general public.

Recommendations include:

  • Trying to maintain connections as much as possible. Reach out if you are struggling or know someone who is
  • Exercise when you can and where you can
  • Eat healthily
  • Maintain a “normal” life schedule and keep a routine
  • Get a good amount of sleep

Lessard says people who experience anxiety and depression on a regular basis, and even those with an underlying mental condition, are experiencing the stresses of COVID-19 on an elevated level compared to the average person. Lessard went on to say one in every five persons has a mental condition in the U.S.

“We’re seeing more calls in for support and folks looking for resources,” said Lessard. “Across the board, we are seeing upticks and a lot of negative fallout from the situation we are in because of COVID right now.”

Currently, NAMI Anchorage and its other affiliates across the state have support groups. These groups would have normally been in person, but with COVID-19 and restrictions to group meetings, things have gone virtual.

Currently, there are online groups held on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays. The groups include a family support group. This is a peer-led support group for any adult with a loved one who has experienced symptoms of a mental health condition. Another group is a recovery support group which is also peer-led. This group is designed to connect, encourage, and support participants using a structured support group model.

You can use the following link to sign-up and get more information.

“It’s really important to try and maintain those connections,” said Lessard. “While we have this online support group which has been amazing for maintaining connections and we are finding new people who want to join via that.”

According to data from the National Center for Health Statistics in its Household Pulse Survey, there is a visible rise in people expressing anxiety.

During the week of April 23 to May 5, 30.8% of those surveyed expressed some characteristics of anxiety disorder. Fast forward to the week of July 16 to July 21, that number rose to 36.1%.

Specifically for Alaska during the same time periods mentioned above, the number rose from 27.7% to 33.8%.

“If there is one thing we can say about COVID is that it’s a level playing field for everybody. We are all experiencing this together.”

You can find helpful resources on NAMI Anchorage’s website and also on the CDC’s website.

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