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Healthbeat 4: COVID-19 and mental health

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Sioux City, Iowa (KTIV) -- While there is hope of returning back to a near normal, the pandemic has changed life as we once knew it. We've been somewhat isolated and have had to limit our social interactions and stay indoors to remain safe.

The pandemic also had an effect on how we feel emotionally, which means our new normal has taken a toll on our mental health. However, we can address the effects of the pandemic blues and take action to turn things around or help others.

"Isolation is one of the things that causes some of my symptoms of paranoia and delusions to act up."

This mental health patient, who asked not to be identified, has suffered from schizophrenia and paranoia for years. Once the pandemic hit, all of his therapy came to a crashing halt, leading to even stronger feelings of isolation.

"Been pretty slow, days drag by and lately I've been having insomnia."

"For a while there, a lot of people kind of fell through the cracks, weren't attending the meetings and weren't meeting with people, and because of that, their mental illness suffered and they went back to using alcohol and drugs and some people did commit suicide," said Ricky Osorio.

Mental health professionals like Ricardo Osorio, a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner at Siouxland Mental Health Center, says some of the reasons for the heightened despair over the last year include job loss or the inability to see our loved ones.

However, the pandemic isn't just affecting people already seeking help to improve their mental health, it's been an issue for many of us.

"We start to see the symptoms and they tend to feel a little more unexplained than they have in the past. And people are wondering. Why am I tired all the time? Why can't I concentrate? Why can't I feel normal?" said Victoria Mason.

Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Victoria Mason calls those symptoms single episode depressions, felt by people of all ages, who have never before suffered from major depression. She says some of those feelings can be attributed to the fact that everyone's regular schedule went out the window with the onset of the pandemic.

So how does a person determine when it's time to seek professional help?

"Typically we say when those problems have been there and they're getting a little bit bigger," said Victoria Mason.

In the meantime, a few activities might help beat the blues.

"It's really good to connect with people by phone."

"Just that simple phone call and saying hey, I've been thinking about you. How are you doing? That can make someone really feel valued and cared for and that could be the one thing that keeps somebody from doing something as bad as committing suicide," said Ricky Osorio.

"Absolutely learned that we all have limits. Sometimes we get into fields, as the ones who are helping people and we start to think, I'm Super Woman, I'm Wonder Woman, I'm Batman out here. But absolutely none of us have a cape," said Victoria Mason.

And don't be afraid to ask people if they're okay. Even if you're not a professional, there's always someone standing by to help.

Osorio reminds us, it's important to understand we all struggle and no one is immune to mental illness.

Don't forget, getting enough sleep can provide a big boost to our mental health. Mason says adults need seven to nine hours of sleep. Children and teenagers need a little bit more.

The people we interviewed for this story say exercise, time off of work, finding a hobby, and reaching out to others are all ways we can improve our mental health.

Stella Daskalakis

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