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The summer of fear & anxiety – mental health and COVID

Our world has been under a considerable amount of stress over the past 17-18 months – the COVID19 pandemic. A pandemic is described as a disease that affects multiple countries or continents.

The experience has been so surreal that at times I have questioned whether or not we are in a movie – wearing masks; social distancing; being on “lockdown;” working from home; shortage of supplies (toilet paper and cleaning supplies); waiting in line for a vaccination or testing; schools going fully remote; COVID screenings; restaurants completely closed; reliance on delivery drivers; Zoom funerals and family gatherings; people dying and being collected in mass frozen storage units; medical and mental health appointments through our phones and computers; and the government handing out money for stimulus, unemployment, and tax credits. This list is not nearly exhaustive regarding the effects of this pandemic.

Many people had been vaccinated, and at one point we stopped seeing a rise in local, state, national, and global daily counts of new COVID diagnoses and resulting deaths. And then, after a good while, people returned to work, mask requirements were lifted, things began to open back up, and we started seeing our family and friends in person again. Although many experienced anxiety in the “return to normal,” if you can call it that, it did appear that things were looking up.

This summer was the first time I heard of the Delta variant. According to Public Health England, as of July, Delta is the dominant form of the COVID virus in the U.S., U.K., Germany, and other countries and represents 97% of the new COVID-19 cases.

Medical experts have said it is not yet determined to be more deadly but most agree that it is definitely more easily transmissible. Yale Medicine reports that the average person infected with Delta spreads it to three or four other people compared to one to two people with the original virus.

Additional concerns with this new variant include the fact that even those who have been fully vaccinated are contracting it, and more children are becoming infected.

All that to say that fear and anxiety have once again become prevalent in our world. There is so much unknown about this new virus and there is no rule book instructing us on the response. We are in a position that we must rely on our leaders and our own personal understanding and needs as to how to minimize our exposure to the virus.

I did not go into the specific effects all of this has on our individual and collective mental health. I believe that we are in the midst of a collective trauma and the complete effects of this trauma will continue to be revealed as time goes on. So, what can we do now as we venture into the uncertain future?

As a mental health professional, I would encourage these things to support your mental health always but especially so during this time:

1) Stay connected to those whom you are in a relationship with, even if it is virtual or through methods devised to promote safety and reduce exposure.

2) Talk about your experiences. This is very helpful as it validates your own thoughts, feelings and emotions. By doing so, you reduce your sense of isolation and feeling alone.

3) Reach out for other support. Counseling is a very healthy way to process these things in a safe and supportive way. There are many options for this via telehealth (video) and telephone. Literally, help is at your fingertips.

I want to highlight one of the greatest resources available in our community, and it is known as CCP, which stands for Crisis Counseling Program. It is free and confidential counseling provided by Texans Recovering Together through Heart of Texas Region MHMR. I hope you will reach out when in need.

Telawna Kirbie is director of behavioral health initiatives for Prosper Waco.


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