Mental health experts advise making a plan to manage stress

Published: Apr. 9, 2020 at 5:11 PM EDT
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There are increased concerns about mental health as the coronavirus crisis stretches on. Vermont State Police say from March 1 to April 6 there were nine people that died by suicide in Vermont, with several happening over the course of just one weekend. Our Cat Viglienzoni went out to talk to people about how they're managing their stress.

"It's been an interesting ride so far," said South Burlington resident Amanda Hoffman. She and her daughter Charlotte were on an afternoon walk to Overlook Park with their dog Stella -- part of their new routine. "Every day is a little bit different than the last, and in a lot of ways, every day is exactly the same."

Hoffman says week four of the coronavirus crisis is easier than week two. Charlotte is in fifth grade and says she misses going to school and seeing her friends in person. "I wish it didn't happen and I hope it's over soon," she said.

They're managing the added stress of working and schooling from home by making plans. "Setting goals, mini-goals, to do each day. That's been really helpful," Hoffman said.

That's exactly what mental health experts help people do when they call into crisis lines. "Make a plan, call your friends, take a walk outside, get some air," said Mary Moulton, the executive director with Washington County Mental Health Services. She says call volumes dropped a bit when the crisis first started, but now they're seeing more first-time callers.

"The first thing we want to know is what they're experiencing. They may indeed be experiencing stress that occurs in their body physically. Maybe they're feeling their heart beat faster. Maybe they're not sleeping as well at night. Maybe they're feeling it hard to concentrate when they're trying to go read a book that they really wanted to read for a long time. And maybe they're plugging into the TV too much and they're watching 24/7 media screens. We're really encouraging -- check in once a day," Moulton said. "Communicate with your loved ones. Talk about how you're afraid. And so when people call us, we ask them what they're experiencing and then we'll help them make a plan so that they can regain some control over their life in this circumstance. They're experiencing a normal reaction to a pretty different situation we're experiencing here and we want them to understand that and we can help them with that."

Another big change for them has been the way they do their mental health assessments. Before this, there had been no telehealth except for phone calls. But just in the last two weeks, they've transitioned, doing 1,100 different Zoom calls. They say it's been different, but it's working. "People are really appreciating the telehealth, looking forward to those calls," Moulton said.

She says dozens of their regular mental health clients have been set up with iPads or laptops -- like these donated by National Life this week -- so that they can check in daily on their mental health, and hopefully keep them in the community and out of the hospital. Still, she expects as the weeks wear on, the numbers of people seeking help, including psychiatric beds, will go up.

"This is rolling. It's going to roll out as the virus rolls out. It's not like one single impact and we're outside and picking up after a destructive natural event," Moulton said.

Back in South Burlington, Bill Tobey and Gerri Oppedisano say that getting outdoors keeps them grounded. "Getting out and walking was already part of my program and continues to be, but it's obviously a different feeling to it all now," Tobey said.

They say they're connecting with friends virtually and trying to appreciate what they can do instead of focusing on what they can't. "Getting out for walks when we can. Even just being outside in our own yards and waving to people," Oppedisano said.

Mental Health Resources:


-National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-TALK (8255)

-Text VT to 741741 for the Crisis Text Line - Free, 24/7 and confidential.

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