Since the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in the United States more than a year ago, the number of people needing mental health services has surged.
Initially during the pandemic lockdown, human services agencies and providers saw a decrease of clients because “nobody went anywhere,” said Bill Browning, director of the Lackawanna County Department of Human Services, which coordinates publicly funded social services in the county.
As shutdowns lifted, the need for human services skyrocketed across the board, including for behavioral health, drug and alcohol treatment, child welfare, housing and aging.
“Throughout all of human services, the needs have dramatically increased over the past year” from the pandemic, Browning said.
David Palmiter, Ph.D., ABPP, a psychologist with a practice in Clarks Summit, cited the U.S. Census last year asking a few mental health questions of an unprecedented sampling of 195 million adult Americans.
The census asked if a person was feeling down, depressed or hopeless, and 55% of respondents said yes, at least several days of week, while 23% said yes, more than half of the time, Palmiter said. It also asked if a person was feeling nervous, anxious or on edge, and 69% said yes, at least several days a week, while 36% said yes, more than half of the time.
“So, that’s factual evidence of a significant worsening of mood and anxiety since COVID began,” said Palmiter, who also is a professor at Marywood University.
Tunkhannock licensed social worker Kara Golden has seen calls for therapy go way up in the past year.
“Every week I have been getting calls for new referrals, and with me being in private practice you can’t always see everyone,” Golden said. “A lot of other counselors in the profession that I have talked to are experiencing the same types of problems as well.”
Golden said that the increased isolation — especially among young adults — financial stress and economic changes, and high anxiety about the future have been the main reasons people have been calling for visits.
“Uncertainty and fear of the unknown can cause anxiety in a lot of people,” Golden said. “Grief isn’t just caused by death, it can be caused by things like loss of a job. That can come up as fear in adults.”
The number of people seeking treatment has gone up at the Children’s Service Center, too.
Licensed social worker Ron Smith, CSC’s chief operating officer, said that the last year has been eye-opening.
“We have seen that everyone goes through grief and that people go through it in different ways,” Smith said. “Most of the patient causes that we have been treating are depression and anxiety. With so many unknowns surrounding this pandemic, it can cause a lot of damage to young people.”
To help take care of the anxiety, depression and grief, Golden said special breathing exercises provide time to unwind and maintain a routine, even if it’s hard.
“I’ve been telling my patients that if they have a hobby to keep doing it,” Golden said. “Listening to music, writing and keeping a journal are other good ways to keep your mind in a good place.”
Golden will speak about mental health at the Endless Mountains Empowerment Summit, which will take place March 20-27. Her No. 1 piece of advice is to never give up, even if someone can’t find a therapist at first.
“Everyone can benefit from therapy,” she said. “Even if it’s hard to find someone in these times, keep looking, because someone will listen to you.”
JIM LOCKWOOD, staff writer, contributed to this report.