Paul Gionfriddo, president and CEO of Mental Health America, recently expressed concerns regarding COVID-19 and mental health.

“As the number of cases of COVID-19 increase, so does the associated anxiety,” Gionfriddo said. “For the general public, the mental health effects of COVID-19 are as important to address as are the physical health effects.”

Locally, Sharon Buckman, director of clinical services for Piedmont Community Services, said they are there to help.

“We are here to be a safety net for individuals who have serious mental illness or substance use disorders and for individuals with developmental disabilities,” Buckman said.

She added Piedmont is continuing to see people ask for services, as well as continue the services they already had in place.

“We are taking steps to have services available by phone and video, via internet,” she said. “We want people to know that we’ll be answering our phones and have staff available to talk with them. People should check our website frequently and for updates regarding services. We’re going to do our best to be here for this event, even if virtually.”

Lynne Johnson with Beacon Counseling Group, is among the private practices in the area. She is a licensed clinical social worker and a licensed substance abuse practitioner.

Her new practice i on Scruggs Road in Moneta. She had planned to be meeting with clients last week in person, but the virus has kept her office furniture from being delivered. She said she is accepting new clients and that she is grateful for technology, which enables her to help clients virtually or by phone.

“We’re learning to be flexible,” Johnson said. “I’m working longer and harder than ever and am really learning to work on the fly. We’re here. We’re ready. There are services available.”

Dr. Joshua Bradley is a licensed clinical psychologist and behavioral health director at Tri-Area Community Health with offices in Ferrum, Floyd and Laurel Park. He said the health centers have seen a significant decrease in both medical and behavioral health visits over the past couple of weeks. The staff is diligently trying to offer telehealth appointments for those who are not coming in due to fear of exposure.

Tri-Area’s behavioral health staff includes licensed clinical psychologists, licensed social workers and doctoral psychology students.

Bradley said, they have recently noted a “sharp increase” in patient fear in three separate areas.

“The three areas include their own health, the health of their relatives (especially those that are medically vulnerable and older) and financial concerns associated with being out of work or fear of losing their job,” he said. “For those (who) are still working, they are stuck between fears of exposure and fears of financial security. When people have to choose between two bad options it leads to significant stress. This, in combination with the constant vigilance in public spaces, leaves us on alert for much of our days.”

Buckman, Johnson and Bradley offered recommendations for coping with anxiety and stress. Those included exercising, spending time outside, making a list of things to be grateful for, taking part in art and music, taking a break from the news, reading and talking with a trusted friend.

“Practice stress relief whenever you feel anxiety building – do some deep breathing, dig in the garden, eat some ice cream – whatever works for you,” Gionfriddo said. “Don’t do anything you’d consider to be unhealthy for you, such as excess drinking – that will just increase your anxiety afterwards. Keep looking forward. Make some plans for six months down the road.”

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