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Coronavirus may lead to increased demand for mental health services, Volusia-Flagler experts say
News-Journal - 3/30/2020
DAYTONA BEACH -- With thousands of Volusia and Flagler county residents thrust into self-isolation for an undetermined amount of time, mental health professionals are bracing for a sharp rise in mental health crises.
The likelihood of people experiencing anxiety, depression and acute stress has grown in the face of a global pandemic, which has removed many from their friends and loved ones and left others without a source of income.
The News-Journal is providing this important health information for free. Help support our journalism. SUBSCRIBE HERE.In response to the anticipated demand for mental health services, local providers are offering telehealth services, which allow them to provide counseling through video calls. The shift from in-person counseling seeks to slow the spread of the virus, while maintaining communication with clients.
The video calls will be conducted through HIPAA-compliant websites that ensure the privacy of clients. Providers will send clients a link to their online counseling session, which can be accessed through a smartphone or computer. Clients will be advised to wear headphones during the session, which should take place in a safe and secure room.
Russell Holloway, a licensed mental health counselor and director of the Port Orange Counseling Center, noted that the COVID-19 outbreak has unnerved residents who cannot predict what their immediate future will look like. Unlike natural disasters, he pointed out, the total duration and effects of the pandemic are much more difficult to foresee.
"With a hurricane, we know we're going to prepare for it for a week in advance," he said. "We know it's going to happen within the course of 24 hours and we're going to see the damage pretty soon after it's over. But with the virus, no one in our generation has ever been faced with anything like this. So not knowing exactly how this is going to unfold is really hard for people."
Holloway noted that people who struggle to adapt to change are at a higher risk of experiencing mental health issues. Tension surrounding the pandemic might also exacerbate problems for those with existing mental health conditions, he said.
While experts are certain that mental health consequences will arise from the COVID-19 outbreak, Holloway has not seen an increase in calls in recent weeks. Neither has Jennifer Hiers, a licensed mental health counselor and founder of REACH Counseling and Wellness.
"I think a lot of people aren't aware of the services that are offered," she said, noting that some people might also be afraid to schedule an in-person counseling session due to the risk of infection.
Hiers reassured clients, particularly those without computer or internet access, that the REACH Counseling and Wellness offices are large enough to maintain social distancing. She noted that those with access to technology are encouraged to participate in video calls.
Telehealth services, she pointed out, were not covered by a lot of insurance companies. However, many have now made an exception due to the pandemic.
Rhonda Harvey, chief operating officer for SMA Healthcare, noted that the mental health agency has expanded its telehealth services to help people participate in counseling sessions from the safety of their homes. Starting Monday, anyone who contacts the crisis helpline will be able to set up a free video call with a counselor. The helpline can be reached at 800-539-4228.
Aside from telehealth services, people can do other things to cope with the stress of recent unprecedented events. Nicole Sharbono, a licensed mental health counselor and vice president of Volusia County Services for SMA Healthcare, advised people to reduce their intake of news and social media; find opportunities to exercise or complete other activities; and use phones or other communication devices to maintain social contact with loved ones.
She emphasized the fact that a complete loss of social contact can affect a person's mental health.
"In general, human beings have that need for belonging and human interaction," she said. "Some more than others. Some people like to be by themselves, but even those people when isolated for a long period of time find that they don't really feel like themselves. So, with the circumstances, many people will start to feel more depressed."
Sharbono noted that those struggling with self-isolation might see changes in their eating or sleeping patterns. Some, she added, might also have trouble concentrating.
She cautioned against the use of drugs and alcohol to self-medicate and encouraged those with addiction issues to seek professional help.
For Volusia and Flagler county residents who grapple with the fear of an uncertain future, Holloway, Hiers and Sharbono offered similar advice: Do not stress about what cannot be controlled and focus on what can.
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