Pandemic shines light on state of our behavioral health

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 15, 2021

COVID-19 weight gain. Increased alcohol consumption and drug use. Depression and anxiety. Marital problems including increased reports of domestic abuse. And shocking reports of people acting aggressively with no concern for common courtesy.
As if the physical effects of coronavirus aren’t concerning enough, another long-haul symptom even for those lucky enough to have remained free of the virus has been the impact on behavioral health. Nearly two years of the pandemic have weakened coping mechanisms. And in southeast Louisiana, devastation from Hurricane Ida caused further deterioration of fragile psyches.
As we head into the holidays you should remain cautiously aware of your health and triggers that can adversely affect body, mind and spirit.
At Thibodaux Regional Behavioral Health Center, highly trained staff work with patients to identify root causes of conditions or problems that may affect them physically, emotionally or mentally.

Behavioral Health & Mental Health
Behavioral health encompasses the effects of behaviors on someone’s health. These range from depression, mood changes and anxiety to diabetes management, eating disorders, smoking cessation, grief, fear, marital problems, alcohol and drug use. Behavioral factors can be interconnected to our physical and mental health.
While the terms are often used interchangeably, behavioral and mental health are different. Certain behaviors—whether within or outside our control—can impact a person’s mental wellbeing. Thus, behavioral health includes mental health.
Undoubtably, the global pandemic continues to affect mental health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that between August 2020 and February 2021, the number of adults with recent symptoms of anxiety or depression increased from 36.4% to 41.5%.
High-profile athletes and other celebrities have brought the need for taking a mental health break out of the shadows and into the mainstream.

Monitoring Your Behavioral Health
Take time to assess your own behavioral health. If you recognize problems, seek professional help.
Care for yourself first. You can’t take care of others unless you are healthy. Examine your eating habits, sleep patterns and exercise routines—three behavioral areas that can impact the rest of your health.
Identify and address triggers that may be causing you to feel anxious or agitated.
When feeling overwhelmed, take a break, take a walk.
With the holidays just around the corner, slow down, breathe deeply and don’t overcommit.

Whether still remote or back in the office, most work routines have changed drastically since early 2020. Worker shortages, supply chain shortages and what’s being called the “Great Resignation” are impacting workforce dynamics. Avoid burnout from over-stressing and over-scheduling with these tips:
Practice daily morning mediations.
Take mindful breaks twice a day—close your door for quiet time or take a walk.
Clear your schedule one day a week of meetings.

Watching Out for Others’ Health
During the early months of COVID lockdown and quarantine, parents and professionals initially failed to recognize the impact on children, especially teenagers. Changes in routines, socially quarantining and missing significant events such as proms and graduations were particularly devastating for them.
While most children have resumed fairly normal school and social routines, continue to watch for changes in their behaviors and address any concerns immediately. Signs of concern include:
Excessive worry or sadness, which may be difficult to distinguish from typical teenage moodiness; don’t overlook anything.
Unhealthy eating or sleeping habits.
Difficulty paying attention and concentrating.
Withdrawing from friends.
Sudden loss of interest in sports and other activities.
Drop in grades.

Seek professional help for your child if you recognize a problem. In the meantime, parents can help ensure their child’s wellbeing by:
Maintaining family routines as much as possible.
Keeping your worries to a minimal around the kids.
Talking to your children honestly, listening earnestly to them and encouraging them to express their concerns to you.
Reinforcing basic health and wellness routines.
Teaching them to recognize signs of depression and anxiety so they know when to ask for help.

Lisa Matherne, LCSW, BACS is director of behavioral health for Thibodaux Regional Health System. If you or someone you love needs help with behavioral health issues contact Thibodaux Regional Behavioral Health Center for Inpatient Services at 985-493-4040 and 985-493-4437 for Outpatient Services.