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Health professionals: Take care of mental health during COVID-19 response

Posted at 7:07 PM, Mar 30, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-30 21:07:48-04

Health professionals say the major changes brought by coronavirus will put a lot of pressure on many Montana families.

“Social isolation and distancing is often a huge stressor for people who already are experiencing anxiety or depression or trauma,” said Kim Gardner, clinical director at Intermountain.

As Montanans spend the next few weeks following Gov. Steve Bullock’s order to stay at home, health care providers say it will be particularly important for people to take care of their mental health.

Gardner said some parents have had their work hours cut, while also having to take care of their kids – combining multiple sources of stress.

Dr. Heather Zaluski, Shodair Children’s Hospital’s medical director, said the closure of schools and the requirement to stay home is particularly disruptive for children and teens.

“I think for young children, probably the biggest stress is the disruption in routine,” she said. “For adolescents, being isolated from their social group is incredibly stressful. I think as adults, we need to not minimize that.”

Zaluski said some children, particularly younger ones, may act out in response to this stress.

Now, organizations say they’re taking steps to make sure they’re available to help if people need it. Intermountain increased its capacity to provide “tele-therapy,” through phone or video calls.

“Now that we’re settling and struggling with staying in place, we’re finding that it’s hard for people to reach out, not knowing if they should go out,” said Gardner. “So it’s even more important that we expanded our services so that we have more teletherapy.”

Gardner said they are still open for some in-person visits, but they are taking additional safety precautions.

Shodair is still admitting some patients, but Zaluski said they have shifted much of their effort toward doing outpatient therapy remotely.

“Because we have reduced our bed capacity on the inpatient side, we now have more capacity for psychiatrists, nurse practitioners and therapists,” she said.

Zaluski said they are doing additional screening before admitting patients, and that they are warning parents about the possibility that there may eventually be a COVID-19 exposure at the facility.

If you are taking care of kids during this time, Gardner recommended steps like keeping a consistent routine, planning for free time or time outside and maintaining social connections over the phone or online.

Gardner and Zaluski agree that one of the most important things is to ask for support if you need it.

“Don’t try to tough it out, call for help,” said Gardner.

You can get more information about Intermountain’s services by calling (406) 442-7920 or online . You can contact Shodair at (406) 444-7500 or go to their website .