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Managing mental health in isolation

CASPER — Local, state and national leaders have all urged residents to avoid public areas and avoid in-person interactions as the novel coronavirus continues to spread. Compound that social isolation with the uncertainty brought about by a pandemic, and it could have a severe impact on a person’s mental health.

“I think the biggest thing is a feeling of being isolated. That in and of itself can create anxiety,” said Kevin Hazucha, CEO of the Central Wyoming Counseling Center. “We all want to feel connected; it’s human nature.”

Without that connection, Hazucha said, anxiety and depression can easily invade someone’s life. Social isolation and social distancing help limit the transmission of the virus. As hospitals brace for an influx of cases, health experts say limiting those cases by reducing person-to-person interactions is one way to prevent a surge of hospitalizations and deaths.

Many states have issued shelter-in-place orders requiring residents to distance from each other and only leave home for essentials.

Wyoming has not issued such an order, but Gov. Mark Gordon has urged residents to socially distance and avoid public places.

Hazucha recommends staying connected with friends and family through technology, keeping a routine, avoiding watching the news all day, eating right, getting some sleep and exercising. Easier said than done sometimes, he conceded.

Still, he said it’s important to focus on what can be controlled.

“This is such a fluid environment, it shakes you out of your day-to-day reality,” Hazucha said. “You want to get people to take it a day at a time.”

He said it’s important to check up on your loved ones and maintain contact, “even if it’s just for five seconds.”

The Counseling Center is trying to adapt to ensure its clients are still able to make that contact when they need to, either online via telehealth or over the phone. The center provides counseling, addiction treatment, and services for adults and children, among other programs. Hazucha’s hope is soon all of their services will be accessible through telehealth.

His worry is that in the meantime, somebody looking for help will have a harder time accessing it, which could mean they don’t look for help at all.

“The biggest obstacle we have is that initial call for help,” he said, adding that soon all of the center’s counselors should be equipped for telehealth sessions. “Anytime anybody feels they could use some assistance … we want to encourage people to reach out any time,” he said.

Cori Cosner-Burton, executive director of Casper’s Mercer Family Resource Center, is worried about this too, especially because the situation may compound existing disparities in the state.

Wyoming has the second-highest suicide rate in the nation, and Cosner-Burton said cases tend to increase this time of year.

“So to have this social isolation happening on top of those two components —” she said, cutting her sentence off.

Cosner-Burton offered similar recommendations to Hazucha’s for improving one’s mental health, saying to stay connected by phone or online, to get sunshine and to monitor news intake.

“You don’t have to spend a lot of money to do those things,” she said.

She said focusing on the present is also important, particularly in a time of uncertainty.

Cosner-Burton also suggested reaching out to a counseling service if anxiety or depression in the shadow of COVID-19 overwhelms a person’s daily life.

If they’re having trouble getting out of bed, eating meals — typical daily activities — she said they should seek help.

“Early on, it’s better to reach out,” she said. “It doesn’t mean you’re in therapy forever.”

She said some people may want ongoing counseling, while others might only need a session or two to realign themselves.

Mercer is still offering counseling via telehealth and over the phone, and they are working to put other programs online.

To contact Mercer Family Resource Center, call 307-265-7366. To contact Central Wyoming Counseling Center, call 307-237- 9583. To reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, call 1-800- 273-TALK. And to access Wyoming’s crisis text line, text “WYO” to 741-741.

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