Gov. Jay Inslee took time to address mental health impacts caused by the COVID-19 pandemic as well as other crises in the state, such as the wildfires this month, saying “it’s normal to feel abnormal” as the disease continues to affect daily life.
Inslee hosted a press conference with experts Sept. 17 where he addressed common struggles with mental health faced during crisis events. He acknowledged that apart from COVID-19, the recent wildfires that have burned roughly 620,000 acres of the state could have led to increased impacts.
Inslee said it was important to recognize the need for help with mental health, referencing information from the state Department of Health that said upwards of three million Washingtonians would likely experience “clinically significant behavioral health symptoms” during the current situation.
Washington State Department of Health Behavioral Health Strike Team Co-Lead Kira Mauseth spoke about mental health experiences one might face during the COVID-19 pandemic. She said that individuals might have found themselves more forgetful or unable to track details in the past weeks or months, or may be more quick to anger.
Mauseth said the next few months the state is heading into the “disillusionment phase” of disaster response, where individuals have a hard time coming to terms with what the “new normal” of a situation will look like. She said the disillusionment was a common experience with all individuals experiencing some of the symptoms.
Mauseth noted the disillusionment phase will coincide with the change in weather leading to seasonal affective issues, as well as the potential for another wave of disease. She said individuals can begin to counter those potential impacts by developing resilience, which she said had four “ingredients” that included maintaining hope, connections with other people, adaptability and a definition of purpose.
Mauseth said data showed most individuals will return to their baseline level of behavioral functioning by 12 to 16 months following a disaster.
Consejo Counseling & Referral Service Executive Director Mario Parades said that for children the removal from the in-person social interaction of school in their buildings has been especially impactful. The impacts can affect the whole family, as he noted an increase of domestic violence and substance abuse cases.
Parades stressed the importance of recognizing the signs of a change in behavior such as increased consumption of alcohol or an increase in anger outbursts.
Asian Counseling and Referral Service Behavioral Health Director Yoon Joo Han noted that all communities have been impacted by recent events including those in Asian and Pacific Islander communities.
“The best thing we can do is be aware of all the challenges that we are experiencing, and seek out help,” she said.
Lillian McGregor, a student at LaCrosse High School in Whitman County, noted youth receiving counseling through the school system might feel greater impacts with the lack of in-person instruction. She noted that the ability to use solutions such as telemedicine was impacted by a lack of access to high-speed internet in rural communities.
Inslee presented a number of state resources for those seeking help, including the “Washington Listens” hotline at (833) 681-0211, the state’s crisis hotline at (866) 427-4747 and the National Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255. He echoed the words of the experts who spoke in that the impacts from the ongoing disasters on mental health could be managed.
“We can affect our mental health; it is in our power to do that,” Inslee remarked.
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