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In the best of times, one out of five people struggle with a mental health concern…depression, anxiety, traumatic experiences, loss, violence, substance abuse or other tragic events in their lives, along with far more serious mental health conditions.

But many experts are predicting that the next major impact of the COVID-19 pandemic will be a mental health crisis, according to Tom Royer, president/CEO at Beech Brook, a 168-year-old behavioral health agency headquartered in Pepper Pike.

On top of the anxiety about the virus and anxiety about the future, more than a million Ohioans are now unemployed, facing food shortages, inability to pay their bills, the strain of homeschooling their children, lack of day care while they work, and the stress of constant togetherness, Royer says. Many children and teens may also suffer from trauma as they try to deal with isolation, disappointment over the cancellation of major life events, lack of social connections, loss of school and related activities – all with no clear end in sight.

“I worry that this second wave has already begun. We just can’t see it too well yet,” says Royer. “That is a function of isolation. We can all pretend that we are doing great on social media or during that 30-minute phone call. But what about those times of high stress at home? What about the quiet times where you are alone with only your own thoughts and concerns?

“I also worry because I know that home is not a safe place for many families who already suffer from domestic violence, child abuse and complex trauma, now intensified by the stress of this crisis. We know that we will be seeing the impact of this more acutely in the kids and families we serve - the most vulnerable – as we begin returning to more normal operations.”

Beech Brook has continued to employ all its 225-member staff members during the shelter-at-home weeks, with direct service staff providing telehealth, phone calls and other strategies to keep families emotionally stable and children safe. Many staff members have made videos to provide additional support for their clients and other families.

May 1 is the beginning of Mental Health Month, and it has never been more important than to pay attention to the signs of potential problems, says Royer

“There are endless sources for ideas about how to manage stress during this time: eating well, getting sufficient sleep, exercising, and practicing mindfulness and meditation. We should all be doing these things,” he says.

“But I encourage anyone who is experiencing a heightened level of depression, anxiety, anger or hopelessness to take advantage of the options for online therapy, telemedicine, virtual support groups. Talk with others about your feelings; chances are they are feeling the same way, too.

“Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. It is the healthiest thing you can do. Don’t be afraid to reach out.”

For more information about resources for coping during the COVID-19 crisis, visit https://www.beechbrook.org/services/coronavirus-resources-and-tips.

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