ENTERPRISE — If the whole COVID-19 thing has you feeling depressed, frustrated and anxious, you are not alone.
A just-released study from the Boston University School of Public Health has found that depression has increased threefold nationally. Counselors in Wallowa County have found similar mental health issues here. And they have some suggestions for ways to lift your spirits.
“We are starting to see the fatigue that sets in from our real-life experience called the COVID pandemic,” said Mollie Cudmore, a Wallowa Valley Center for Wellness counselor. “It has become one of the most challenging mental health obstacles I have witnessed in the past 20 years.”
Cudmore, a licensed clinical social worker and the school counselor in the Enterprise schools, has seen a significant uptick in anxiety and depression here, along with other problems including increased domestic violence and increased frustration with isolation.
And she anticipates that this trend will continue through the fall and winter.
“These and other problems will, sadly, continue to increase, especially as we head into the fall. That’s a time known to have an increase in suicidality and psychosis due to multiple factors,” she said.
The rise in depression and anxiety during the pandemic echoes a national trend recognized in the new study by Boston University researcher Catherine Ettman and colleagues published Sept. 2 in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).
“Individuals (in the U.S.) with lower social resources, lower economic resources and greater exposure to stressors (e.g., job loss) reported a greater burden of depression symptoms. Post–COVID-19 plans should account for the probable increase in mental illness to come, particularly among at-risk populations,” the study concludes.
In fact, the paper notes that depression, anxiety, and other mental health challenges have increased significantly worldwide during the pandemic.
That generally seems to be true in Wallowa County, as well.
“Citizens in Wallowa County are asking for help for increased mental health services due to stress and anxiety around COVID and what that means for their families,” Cudmore said. “One anonymous participant wrote, ‘I ask myself often is there going to be an end in sight? When will I not be in fear of this disease and all of the changes it brings?’ ”
“In our county and across the state, we have seen a discouraging increase in domestic violence, unemployment, alcohol and drug use, including opioid use, cyber-bullying with our kids, guilt as parents, isolation and ethical dilemmas, anxiety and depression.” Cudmore said.
Cudmore noted that Wallowa County residents are struggling with social isolation, as well as confusion about how to interact — or whether to interact — with family members who are at increased risk. Online classes presented new challenges to families balancing the complexities of home, work, and school.
And, she said, teenagers are still struggling with missing activities, social relationships and canceled sports last academic year, as well as modified sports, social and academic schedules this year. The schools are making an effort to provide all the educational state criteria for both face to face eduction and virtual learning while fostering creative outlets for students.
“I believe there is a path to better mental health and a brighter future,” Cudmore said. “It is critical to realize in the face of adversity such as a natural disaster, loss and in our case a world a pandemic? We all react in various ways — some good and some bad. It is these reactions that define who we are.”
There are ways to help oneself.
“Questions you can ask to help yourself include ‘What are the areas in your life you can control?’ Focus on these things in your life, lessen your social media exposure of negativity and remember your values,” she said.
Cudmore passed on advice she has heard.
“My 99-year-old grandfather gave me wise words,” she said. “I asked him what the key pieces to life are. He responded, ‘Keep moving. Life is short and moments to share with those you love are precious.’”