Mental health professionals discuss coping with COVID-19

Published 5:30 pm Wednesday, April 22, 2020

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City of LaGrange Mayor Jim Thornton hosted a live roundtable discussion Tuesday with mental health professionals.

“We have been trying to keep the public informed on several different fronts,” Thornton said. “We know a lot of people are dealing with this unprecedented time by being forced to isolate, not work or learn a new way to work virtually and we know our young students in the community have had to adjust to having school canceled.”

Zsa Zsa Heard, Dr. Justin Muller and Dr. Kelly Veal answered questions about mental health throughout the live discussion from the community.

Thornton raised the question of how people can handle getting into a routine of a new normal.

“Anxiety is what most folks are feeling right now and what folks may experience as we gear toward this new normal,” Muller said. “I think that’s understandable. One thing I have been telling people is to use this time to not only reflect but to prepare for the future. Planning is one of the major recourses we can tap into during this time. Normalcy is going to look different depending on your circumstance.”

Muller said that everyone has been impacted by the pandemic, but all in different ways.

“I try to remind everyone we are all somewhat abnormal,” Heard said. “The way I have seen people adapt to this is little ladies who sit on our property have their masks on every day. They are adjusting. They are older and I think older people want to follow rules to the ‘T’ and not want to break them.”

Heard added that she thinks it’s a bigger adjustment to the younger crowd.

“But that’s the great thing about being younger,” Heard said. “They can take newness a little better sometimes. For the most part the newness, is an adjustment, but it can be done.”

Recently, Gov. Brian Kemp announced that Georgia will begin to reopen some businesses.

“We all are experiencing a collective trauma,” Veal said. “We are all going through a storm, but we all have a different boat. Everybody has a choice to do what they feel is safe. Let people be comfortable with what they are comfortable with.”

Veal recommended that everyone give themselves a mental break and go easy on themselves through the pandemic.

A few coping mechanisms Veal gave for those going through the motions are to:

4Use different breathing techniques to slow your breathing and heart rate

4Pay attention to your nutrition, hydration, visualizations, oxidization and sleep


4Socialize with others, while following social distancing guidelines and using technology to socialize

4Calling a help hotline or counselor

4Help others

If anyone needs to talk to someone about their concerns with COVID-19, they can call the Georgia COVID-19 Emotional Support Line at 1-866-399-8938. It’s open 24/7 and it’s free.

“I have tried to think outside of the box for recourses,” Heard said. “One thing that is good is reminiscing. Talk about your childhood. I have found a lot of websites and YouTube videos. I think if you could just listen to some inspirational quotes that helps a lot.”

Heard said Skyping, using Zoom or texting friends are helpful recourses to help not feel isolated from friends and families.

“I think also during this time we have to be reminded that everyone has a way of dealing with grief,” Muller said. “I think it is important in this time to give folks the space to grieve in a matter in which they feel comfortable. When we are checking on our family members who are dealing with grief, let’s make sure we are being respectful, empathetic and sensitive.”

Another recourse for those struggling is the Georgia Crisis and Access Line and is available 24/7. To access the hotline, call 1-800-715-4225 or text 741-741.

Another major topic the roundtable covered was those going through substance abuse.

“Substance abuse is really tied to trauma,” Veal said. “This is a collective trauma, so if someone was already struggling or were more vulnerable to substances, this is certainly a very high risk time for people to increase their substance use or go back to the usage.”

If you are struggling with substance abuse and need help, call the CARES Warm Line 8:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. any day of the week at 1-844-326-5400.

“Give yourself some grace,” Veal said. “It is never too late to turn around and get help. There are 1-800 numbers or text lines. There are virtual meetings online for AA (alcoholics anonymous) or NA (narcotics anonymous). It’s just a click of a button from your phone or computer to get connected with someone that can reach out and help right away.”