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Coronavirus threat extends to mental health

by Natalia Vander Laan

While the coronavirus pandemic has and will continue to directly claim lives and affect the physical health of those it has afflicted, its impact on mental health should not be overlooked. Economic hardship, eviction, isolation, and the overwhelming feeling of uncertainty can lead to depression and even deaths resulting from substance abuse and suicide.

Three months into the pandemic, people everywhere report the impact of this crisis on their mental health. Hotlines register an increase in emotional distress calls; counselors and therapists report a rise in session requests; and the number of attempted and completed suicides continues to grow.

Debbie Posnien, the Executive Director of Suicide Prevention Network, the local non-profit organization providing suicide awareness, prevention, and support services through education, advocacy, and intervention, reports that there have been nine completed suicides in Douglas County since January. Five of those happened since the pandemic and stay-at-home orders began. Attempted suicide statistics are not yet available but, typically, attempts far outnumber completed suicides by 50% or more. Douglas County Sheriff’s Department reported during a recent crisis management meeting that the number of suicide attempts has doubled and the number of domestic violence reports has tripled.

For the past several years I have been serving on the Suicide Prevention Network’s (SPN) Board of Directors, and, therefore, I welcomed the opportunity to share with our community, via this article, the resources SPN has made available during the pandemic.

SPN has been proactive in promoting mental health awareness through its weekly Facebook Live “Gotta Talk” sessions, projects such as the positivity signs that you have most likely seen along the sides of US 395 in town or in the fronts of businesses, and the distribution of resource information and native flower seeds through local restaurants, Meals on Wheels, and Community Center lunch recipients. SPN also provided care packages to our First Respondents, Native American families, school district employees, and food closet volunteers. Recently, SPN created an opportunity for community members to thank someone in the community who has helped them get through this difficult time.

Although the face-to-face PTSD and Suicide Loss Support groups were discontinued due to the health regulations, SPN hopes to re-start those in the near future. The safeTALK trainings will also be resuming shortly and the community will be notified as soon as dates are available. In the meantime, help can be easily obtained by calling 775-783-1510. Once the individual situation is assessed, a referral to the appropriate individual or organization can be made or one-on-one discussions can continue.

SPN has also partnered with other community coalitions to provide free-of-charge materials, training, and support. SPN’s website, http://www.spnawarness.org, offers valuable information related to the mental health issues caused by the pandemic such as tips on maintaining mental health, a guide to coping with COVID-19, and a list of additional resources.

Some tips on managing one’s own mental well-being include making a conscious effort to find the positive side in everything, talking to a family member or a friend, limiting social media and news, checking in on a neighbor or a loved one, and maintaining a healthy body. However, if stress symptoms are intensifying or you feel you are not coping, professional support is available and SPN can help if you need to talk.

The effects of the pandemic on mental health are only beginning to show. SPN made it its mission to spread awareness and support. In the words of Debbie Posnien, SPN’s Executive Director, “You are not alone. Not now. Not ever. Reach out. SPN is here for you.”

Natalia Vander Laan is a Minden attorney practicing estate planning, family law, and workers’ compensation.