FARMINGTON – Despite the state reopening from COVID-19 shutdowns, medical providers still worry about the mental health issues that have resulted from the isolation and stress of the pandemic.
San Juan Health Partners Behavioral Health nurse practitioner Emily Epstein, who has been with the hospital for exactly one year, said the COVID pandemic affected mental health, not just on the local level, but on a global scale in more ways than one.
“The virus has impacted our stress levels, our connectedness with our community; our ability to obtain necessary care and resources; loss of our loved ones; fear of getting the virus; unemployment as well as misinformation and polarized politics surrounding the pandemic and how to manage it,” Epstein said. “People have been left feeling isolated, without their usual sense of community. With less reason to leave home, we are seeing a rise in intimate partner violence, substance abuse, isolation, depression and agoraphobia.”
In addition to those listed, the virus itself could have a negative direct impact on depressive and neurocognitive disorders, Epstein said.
However, she said, there is “reason for hope” since evidence has shown the vaccines to be highly effective at preventing the COVID-19 virus and vaccination rates have increased over the last few months.
“The Navajo Nation, which once had the highest COVID incidence rate in the country, has almost no new cases due to an early and wholehearted vaccination effort,” Epstein said.
Still, mental health issues have continued to rear their head.
“We have seen mental health issues arise from coping with unemployment, struggling family members, having to home-school kids and complex medical issues that have gone untreated create a strain on resources,” Epstein said. “I personally have noticed an uptick in intimate partner violence and substance abuse as well as agoraphobia. People have become fearful to leave their houses or be in public places.”
Epstein said a problem San Juan Health Partners Behavioral Health has seen is an increase in need for mental health services and a decrease in facilities available because of restrictions and closures.
“People in this already underserved area are having to wait an unprecedented amount of time to have an initial visit with a mental health provider,” Epstein said. “For this reason, it is important to reach out for help sooner rather than later.”
Some signs to watch for include:
- Increase in substance use, including alcohol.
- Disinterest in engaging with loved ones.
- Difficulty following through with work or family commitments.
- Issues sleeping.
- Lack of appetite.
- Fear of leaving the house or being in public even to run errands.
- Decrease in school or work performance.
- Physical signs like stomach pain, headaches and chest pain.
For mental health and substance abuse help, call the San Juan Health Partners Behavioral Health at (505) 636-7110.