Months of social distancing, business shutdowns, layoffs and other fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic are taking a toll on mental health, according to counselors.

“A lot of people experience a higher level of depression and anxiety. They’re having to come up with ways how to manage or cope,” said Amanda McIntosh, who manages the iHope program at Four Rivers Behavioral Health.

With May marking Mental Health Awareness Month, McIntosh addressed some of the factors contributing to so much stress in the midst of the health crisis, and gave some tips on how to relieve some pressure.

“I think it’s the stress of not knowing more about COVID-19. People are really concerned about getting it and what it’s going to do to them, how it’s going to affect them,” she said.

“People are concerned about their finances. People are concerned about their basic needs, stability, not being able to see family or friends.”

McIntosh outlined some preventive measures people can take to deal with stress before it reaches a crisis level.

“Set a schedule and try to stick to a routine as much as possible,” she said, also advising people not to obsessively watch the news, particularly about the pandemic.

“That actually increases anxiety and stress.”

She said many people experience anxiety from not being able to socialize with family or friends, and encouraged them to find methods of getting human interaction.

“Continue to be social, whether it be by phone or Zoom. Try to come up with creative ways. If it’s in person, utilize social distancing,” McIntosh said.

Exercising and healthy eating also can help deal with stress and depression, as can just getting some fresh air.

“Even at home, a person can just go out and smell the air.”

McIntosh said Four Rivers has been using telehealth frequently, meeting with both new and regular clients by phone or videoconference.

While she said it’s not an ideal circumstance, it’s better than no care at all and could cause future improvements in the way counselors help disabled clients or those in rural areas who can’t easily access in-person services.

McIntosh encouraged anyone who thinks they may need mental health services to call Four Rivers at 270-442-7121 to set up an assessment or, if in a crisis situation, call their crisis line at 800-592-3980.

“People most of the time are very concerned about their physical health. You have a problem, you got to the doctor,” she said.

“Mental health, sometimes people don’t always go.”

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