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Pandemic posing mental health challenges

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MISHAWAKA, Ind. --- As Michigan and Indiana joined the list of states issuing ‘stay at home’ orders, social distance does not have to mean self-isolation.

For many, a pandemic can trigger mental illnesses—even if a person have never struggled with mental health before.

A global pandemic such as COVID-19 can create chaos, with much of the attention on physical health.

It is crucial to check in on yourself and your mental health as well, according to John Gallagher, Addiction Therapist at Oaklawn and Bashor Children’s Home.

The pandemic is a significant life stressor for everyone, according to Gallagher.

“We could see some devastating consequences,” Gallagher said.

Nearly half of people nationwide who struggle with addiction also have a form of mental illness—most commonly anxiety, depression and PTSD, Gallagher said.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, conventional face-to-face recovery support groups are changing.

“And so that can have a significant impact on an individual’s well-being and potentially, it could be a life or death situation,” Gallagher said.

While telemedicine and small support group meetings are an option for those without the necessary technology at Oaklawn, self-isolating during the pandemic can lead to relapse and increased mental health issues.

However, the pandemic does not only impact the mental health of those struggling with addiction.

“We anticipate that most people are going to experience some level of anxiety, perhaps even depression or fear,” Gallagher said.

That applies to even those who may have never experienced mental illness prior to the pandemic.

“They may feel stuck, they may feel lonely, they may feel helpless,” Gallagher said. “They haven’t had treatment before; they haven’t learned healthy coping skills and those are the folks we are most concerned for at this point.”

There are resources available now in the Michiana community and while it is important to physically distance yourself to curb the spread of COVID-19, practicing healthy hobbies is encouraged.

“We don’t want people to isolate themselves socially,” Gallagher said. “Now we have to get creative.”

A person can stay physically distant, but socially present by taking a walk and getting fresh air.

“Take a walk outside and FaceTime with someone so you can put a face to the name too,” Gallagher said. “There is help out there and it really is just a phone call away.”

Here is a list of resources available in the Michiana community:

For Oaklawn, click here.

For National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, click here.

For Online Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings, click here.

For more on addiction and mental health, click here.

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