Isolation From Coronavirus Affecting People With Mental Health and Addiction Problems

April 12, 2020, 1:22 p.m. ·


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The coronavirus has had a cascading effect on society, with a financial crisis, tens of millions of workers out of jobs, self-isolation and fears of a pandemic potentially killing loved ones. Isolation could exacerbate issues with anxiety and thoughts of suicide as well as for people recovering from drug abuse.

Randy Meyer is a retiree who has an apartment in an independent living facility in Lincoln. He has dealt with chronic depression for several years now.

“You don't snap out of depression,” Meyer said. “So if you have chronic depression, you have to really maintain a schedule to stay out of it. I mean it is work. It's like a job.”

Research shows increased isolation can lead to higher rates of anxiety and depression. President Trump recently brought up his worries about isolation’s effects on depression and suicide during a coronavirus White House briefing. When the coronavirus pandemic hit and self-isolation became the norm, Meyer had trouble adjusting.

“I get up every morning and I pray and I make my bed and brush my teeth and make something to eat, or I might go to a certain restaurant and talk to certain people,” Meyer said. “When you get locked up or locked down, a lot of that goes away.”

Meyer along with others who live in the 90 apartments at the facility are worried about what will happen with this pandemic.

“They've kind of turned the TV's off,” Meyer said. “They don't need more negative, negative, negative. They're watching the stuff that maybe lifts them up a little bit. They're watching a lot more Gunsmoke, (more than) they are watching ABC News because that seems to fuel the fears.”

Suicide prevention call centers across the country have seen sharp increases since the coronavirus started spreading. Higher than normal calls to call centers have been reported in Massachusetts, Kentucky, California, North Dakota, Montana and Oregon. Meanwhile in Nebraska, mental health providers in the panhandle and southwestern counties have seen an increase in calls due to self-isolation with anxiety and depression topping the list. The Rural Response Hotline hasn’t had an increase in overall calls, but has seen a large increase in calls related to self-isolation.

Dr. David Miers is the counseling and program development manager at Bryan Medical Center in Lincoln. He said when people have a predisposition for depression, doctors tell them to get out, visit a restaurant or hang out with friends. With self-isolation, that has completely changed.

“We're encouraging folks to battle that depression, anxiety, and then hear you're being forced to isolate,” Miers said. “That, in itself is a red flag.”

People may be losing sleep, not eating, or eating too much, there’s a clear change in their daily routine. Dr. Miers said as call centers are seeing an increase in calls, there could be an increase in suicide attempts. Just as there were during the Great Recession ten years ago, which contributed to upwards of 10,000 suicides.

Allen Hager is self-isolating with his family in Omaha, but it’s still a challenge.

“I suffer from depression, anxiety, I have some PTSD. For me, getting out doing what I can gives me some sense of being involved in the community,” Hager said.

He said these are trying times for all Americans, especially those suffering from depression.

“You do feel isolated, you do feel alone, you do feel like you're the only person who is experiencing these issues and you're not,” Hager said.

Along with people suffering from depression and anxiety are those recovering from substance abuse. People like Aaron Barnes, who works with addicts in their recovery process after substance abuse. He is five years sober.

“I was suicidal,” Barnes said. “And I wasn't dealing with an apocalypse or pandemic, right? I was just dealing with all of the normal things that come from the hell of addiction.”

Barnes is worried all the contributing factors associated with the coronavirus pandemic are causing problems for recovering addicts.

“You add all of those on top of the usual weight and heaviness of addiction and it is a recipe for disaster,” Barnes said.

Barnes said people are going to have to take their recovery seriously now more than ever. In recovery, he said, routine, positive thinking and relaxation are essential in overcoming addiction. Also, a big part of that is staying in contact with people who are helping you through the process.

“Addiction is the opposite of connection. It comes in this place where people are really starting to believe that and I think community is how we recover,” Barnes said. “You don't do this on your own.”

Barnes said there are ways to stay connected for both those dealing with anxiety and depression as well as recovering addicts. He lists video chats with friends as the best way. He said finding someone you trust to share feelings about what you’re going through will go a long way. He’s started a Zoom video conferencing meeting with his recovery team, addicts dealing with self-isolation. He said this will help them, but it’s also helping him.

“Here's some things you can do, and here's some ideas, and here's some suggestions and but at the same time just knowing that that person is on the other end is not the same as in person contact,” Barnes said. “But it’s the next best thing under these conditions.”

Barnes said you have to focus on the positive when dealing with all the negative surrounding the coronavirus pandemic.

“When you start getting in your own head and you're alone and you're isolating, you're quarantined and you're so disconnected, you can really start to get into a mental tailspin,” Barnes said.

Barnes, Hager and Meyer all agree – reach out to loved ones if you’re feeling alone and helpless or call a hotline to seek professional help.

If you or someone you know is struggling, help is available. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7 at 1-800-273-TALK or online at