Editor’s Note: This column appears in recognition of May as Mental Health Awareness Month, observed in the United States since 1949.
The past 16 months of living with COVID-19 have brought many changes for everyone. We saw significant changes in mental health in Bandera County, similar to trends seen around the world. At the Nagel Clinic, we made several more referrals of patients to the Texas Department of Mental Health & Developmental Disability for further evaluation than we had in previous years – and quite possibly more than the prior two years combined.
During the beginning of the pandemic, our weekly counseling sessions decreased. This was to be expected. There is a theory in psychology known as Maslow’s Hierarchy. At the core level of the theory, humans need to have their basic needs met in a crisis. They need food, shelter, clothing, and, of course, safety. People began to focus on their immediate safety from the virus, and then whether there would be a disruption to the supply chain. They isolated at home as requested.
During the summer, as folks began to realize they were relatively safe and needs were being met, a new trauma response surfaced for many. After months of being locked down and isolated, people found they had developed acute depression. The only connection many had to the outside world was through social media and the news networks. Suddenly, we saw a surge in appointments for depression and anxiety at the Clinic. This was exactly on trend. Our weekly sessions doubled as more and more of our patients sought help with these issues.
Our weekly counseling sessions began decreasing in the fall and returning to levels seen in previous years. Also, we had moved to telehealth. This had an added bonus for our patients that we did not anticipate: approximately half of our patients have asked to remain on telehealth. They reported that telehealth has been easier for them with their busy work schedules and families. It has also been easier for them financially as they do not have to pay for rides or gas to drive to the Clinic.
Now we have watched as the vaccine rollout has intensified during the spring of 2021. Case numbers and deaths have decreased substantially in the U.S. More of our pre-COVID life and activities are resuming. Interactions with family and friends are increasing. While we will never be free of stressors that affect daily living, at least for now they are compounded less by fear of a debilitating and sometimes fatal disease.
Donna Carrasco is an Integrated Behavioral Health Counselor at the Arthur Nagel Community Clinic in Bandera.