Submitted by Thurston County
Letter to the Community: December 2, 2020
Hello Thurston County, I can’t believe it’s already December! As winter really begins to set in, this week I want to take a moment to address mental health. When I was caring for patients in the emergency department, I found winter and the holiday season could be really hard on people and their mental and emotional health. This year, the pandemic has added additional stress to the holiday season. With increased COVID-19 transmission rates in our community requiring us to change the way we celebrate, to include remote technologies rather than in-person gatherings of family and friends, many people are struggling.
While each of us has unique life circumstances, there are some common ways we experience stress. Some people experience extreme worry about their personal health or the health of their loved ones, others the loss of support services, their employment, or changes in their financial condition. Other symptoms of stress include difficulty concentrating, changes in eating or sleeping patterns, worsening of chronic health and mental health conditions, and increased use of alcohol, tobacco, and other substances. If you are feeling overwhelmed, there are resources to help you. If you feel like you may be a danger to yourself or others, please call 9-1-1 for emergency services.
Resources for additional help:
- Washington Listens is a program to provide nonclinical support to people experiencing elevated stress due to COVID-19. Please call 1-833-681-0211.
- Lifeline is a suicide prevention support service for people thinking about suicide, worried about a friend or loved one, or need emotional support. Please call 1-800-273-8255.
- Veterans Crisis Line can be reached at 1-800-273-8255 and press option 1. They connect veterans with caring, qualified responders with the Department of Veterans
- Disaster Distress Helpline provides counseling and support to people experiencing emotional distress related to natural or human-caused disasters. Please call 1-800-985-5590.
- Crisis Clinic (local) can be reached at 360-586-2800 and provides service to anyone who calls, offering crisis intervention and emotional support, as well as information and
- Crisis Text Line connects you with a crisis counselor through text messages. Text HOME to 741741 to connect with a crisis
- Trevor Project (LGBTQ Youth) offers suicide prevention and support services. Please call 1-866- 488-7386.
Managing stress is an important part of maintaining your emotional well-being. Below are some suggestions on ways to reduce stress.
- Connect with others through video technologies, telephone, or written media.
- Maintain physical health by making time for regular exercise, eating well balanced meals, and getting enough sleep. This not only improves physical well-being but emotional well-being as well.
- Take breaks by doing an activity you enjoy, spend time in a peaceful setting, or find time for meditation.
- Stay informed by using reliable media sources. While this is important it is equally important to take breaks from the news and social media as repeated exposure to distressing news can take its toll.
- Reduce your caffeine intake.
- Say ‘no’ when you feel you are taking on too much.
Maintaining balance and staying connected and informed while finding time to recharge are all ways to reduce stress and promote a sense of well-being in challenging times.
Helping children cope with the stress of the pandemic is also very important. Children experiencing stress can show signs of excessive worry, sadness, increased irritability, or crying and may return to behaviors they had outgrown. Children could develop unhealthy eating or sleeping habits and may have unexplained headaches or body pain. Some children develop difficulties with attention and concentration. Their schoolwork suffers, and they avoid activities that brought them joy in the past.
There are several ways to support children experiencing stress during the pandemic. Talk with them in an age appropriate fashion about the pandemic and answering questions they have as children need reassurance and a safe space to share their feelings. Limit children’s exposure to news. Children may misinterpret the news and become frightened. Establish routines and keep a schedule for both learning and fun activities. The most important thing we can do for the children in our lives is to be good role models by demonstrating confidence, staying calm, and practicing good self-care.
For people experiencing violence at home, the precautions needed to slow the spread of COVID-19 may place them at increased risk. The actions we need to protect ourselves from COVID-19 could allow abusers to have increased control and be better able to isolate victims of violence. They can also limit access to reliable information and use misinformation to promote fear or prevent victims of violence from seeking care if they need it. Travel restrictions and decreased capacity in shelters may adversely impact people seeking to leave an abusive situation.
If you or someone you care about is experiencing abuse, please seek help. Create a safety plan for how to stay safe in the current situation and formulate a plan for how to leave safely. There are many support services available for domestic violence. Some of these services include:
- SafePlace Olympia is available to support survivors through crisis intervention, advocacy, and safety planning. Please call their crisis line at 360-754-6300 or their office at 360-786-8754.
- Turning Pointe offers a temporary shelter, legal and medical advocacy, referrals, and support groups. Please call or text 360-432-1212.
- Family Justice Center in Olympia serves survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, and human trafficking. Please call 360-754-9297 for more
- Washington Domestic Violence Programs offers programs and resources for victims and survivors of domestic violence throughout Washington State. Please call 1-800-799-7233.
- Thurston County Court Domestic Violence Liaison offers assistance with legal protection orders. Please call 360-709-3275 for the domestic violence liaison or 360-709-3255 for the domestic violence advocate.
This is a difficult time of year for many and the pandemic can add additional difficulties as we develop new traditions, new habits, and support systems. We have challenging days ahead as a county since COVID-19 transmission rates remain elevated going into winter and the holiday season, but remember, while physical distance is necessary to slow the spread of COVID-19, there are many ways to stay connected with friends and loved ones and access support if you need it.
Wishing you the best of health,
Dimyana Abdelmalek, MD, MPH
Thurston County Health Officer