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KSAT Explains: Your mental health in 2021 amid COVID pandemic

Episode 20 dives into the mental health crisis created by the pandemic and how to take care of yourself and family this year

SAN ANTONIO – A lot of us were happy to leave the year 2020 behind, but a brand new year doesn’t mean a clean slate when it comes to COVID-19.

The pandemic that plagued us last year has followed us into the new one and the stress has left very few people unscathed.

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In this week’s episode of KSAT Explains, we examine how new challenges over the past year to our daily lives are taking a toll on our mental well being.

We also explore ways to take care of your physical and mental health as stress continues to mount and existing challenges become even more difficult. (You can watch the complete episode in the video player above.)

“Toxic stress” and the mental health crisis

Staying away from friends and family. Wearing a mask when in public. Virtual learning for kids.

These are all things we’ve had to do to physically stay safe during the pandemic. While these actions are necessary for the greater good, they have had a significant impact on our mental health.

The Kaiser Family Foundation reported that in July, 53 percent of adults had been negatively impacted by worry and stress over the coronavirus. That was up from 32 percent in March.

(Kaiser Family Foundation Graphic for KSAT Explains.)
(Kaiser Family Foundation Graphic for KSAT Explains.)

The National Alliance of Mental Illness has seen a 65 percent increase in calls and emails since the pandemic started.

“We’re all experiencing stress to the point of toxic stress. That’s chronic stress that doesn’t let up,” said Terri Mabrito, Executive Dir. of NAMI San Antonio.

And for many people who had existing mental health issues, the pandemic has been more taxing. Prior to the pandemic, nearly one in five U.S. adults reported having a mental illness in the past year.

“Precisely the thing that protects us from a pandemic, which is isolating yourself. That is precisely the thing that is not helpful and healthy for a person that is struggling with a mental health condition. It’s that perfect storm that’s happening right now,” said Mabrito.

In the video below, we look at how people with chronic mental conditions have lost their outlets to cope with stress and why many experts believe those feelings of isolation and being overwhelmed will be hard to overcome.

“There’s going to be this wave we think for increased mental health problems. And sadly, very likely increased deaths by suicide. So we have a long way to go,” said Mabrito.

Identifying warning signs

There are several warning signs when it comes to mental health problems and burnout. Some of the signs are the simplest things: not eating right, not getting exercise or fresh air and not getting enough sleep which is critical to your mental well being.

Another key warning sign is self-isolation and cutting off communication with family and friends.

The CDC provides several options and healthy ways to cope with stress including:

  • Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including those on social media. Hearing about the pandemic repeatedly can be upsetting.
  • Take care of your body. Take deep breaths and stretch daily.
  • Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals, exercise regularly and get plenty of sleep.
  • Connect with your community or faith-based organizations. While social distancing measures are in place, consider connecting online, through social media, or by phone or mail.

For help in the San Antonio area, you can visit nami-sat.org or call the 24-hour Adult Crisis Care Clinic Outreach team at 210-223-7233, or text NAMI to 741-741. If you or someone you know needs help now, call 911.

COVID patients with PTSD

Many COVID survivors are dealing with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The fear of contracting the virus again. The fear that loved ones will get sick. The isolation they experienced when they were in the hospital are all factors contributing to their PTSD.

KSAT Explains shares how a local man is tackling the disorder by trying to help others.

Impact of COVID on mental health of children

For parents and caregivers, perhaps the next biggest question is how is this affecting children and what are the long term effects?

Children have been taken from their social circles, normal routines and missed out on milestone celebrations like a birthday party. But there are things you can do with your child now to help them weather this storm. One of those options includes a term known as “nurture science.”

It is a unique research program from Columbia University that is rooted in a new, evidence-based understanding of the critical role emotional connection plays in healthy child development. We take a closer look in the video below.

Coping without substances

The anxiety children and adults are feeling is understandable, but how people choose to deal with that is key. There is concern about what happens if people try to manage these feelings in unhealthy ways.

San Antonio Rise Recovery helps teens, young adults and families overcome the effects of drugs and alcohol. Rise Recovery CEO Evita Morin says she’s seen some troubling trends over the past several months.

“What we’ve seen is similar to what the education field has seen, which is that kids are very disconnected,” said Morin. “As a result of that, we see a lot of increases in depression and anxiety. We’re seeing a lot of struggling with sobriety and a lot of relapse.”

While data is still being gathered, a report released over the summer by the CDC shows 13 percent of U.S. adults had started or increased substance use. We also take a closer look how to cope with COVID pandemic without substances.

(Graphic via CDC.)
(Graphic via CDC.)

For substance-related help in the San Antonio area call 210-927-4644. Or you can visit alphahome.org or riserecovery.org.

Silver Linings

Despite the bad, there have been some positive things to come out of the pandemic whether it’s reconnecting with loved ones in a different way or possibly opening new lines of communication with family. We wanted to share a few of those stories in the video below.


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