Theresa Freed [00:00:00] On this episode here from Johnson County Mental Health Center experts who work closely with families will discuss the mental health impacts of being in a pandemic, looking at anxiety, fears and sadness and how to get help. They'll offer tips for adults to find new ways for self-care and for families to emotionally prepare for the upcoming school year.
Announcer [00:00:19] Whether you live in or just love Johnson County, Kansas, JoCo on the Go has everything Johnson County. Here's what's happening and what's coming up in the community you call home.
Theresa Freed [00:00:30] Thanks for joining us for JoCo on the Go. I'm your host, Theresa Freed, a Johnson County resident and employee of Johnson County Government. People of all ages are experiencing a wide range of emotions as we adapt to life in a pandemic. For some, the added isolation that comes with physical distancing can be especially difficult.
Theresa Freed [00:00:49] Today, we're talking to Johnson County Mental Health Center experts about what they're seeing as far as trends related to the pandemic and also how they're able to still serve Johnson County's mental health needs. We're going to start with Johnson County Mental Health Center Director Tim DeWeese. Thanks for being here.
Tim DeWeese [00:01:04] My pleasure. Thank you.
Theresa Freed [00:01:06] Especially with a pandemic, we've noticed a lot of discussion surrounding mental health. So, can you start off by just talking to us a little bit about how Johnson County Mental Health Center has been serving clients differently, really since March when we had the virus initially spread to Johnson County?
Tim DeWeese [00:01:20] So, yeah, we've had to basically change how we have provided services essentially overnight. So we went from seeing people predominantly in the community face to face, to seeing people via televideo using Zoom or whatever platform they were comfortable with. So we've had to really make a lot of adjustments to that. We've also had to maintain some availability to be able to see people in person, because not everybody has access to technology or in some situations, people just simply need to see another human being. So we've had to kind of manage that in in a way that we can provide services to our community and do it in a way that's safe for ourselves and for our families.
Theresa Freed [00:02:09] And can you talk about sort of the different needs based on the clients that you're serving, or are you seeing any differences with adults versus children dealing with the virtual setting?
Tim DeWeese [00:02:21] So I think that actually we we have had very positive response from, from both children and adults. In particular, I think we've had a really good response from parents, maybe parents that weren't able to attend a meeting in person, a parent support meeting, being able to grab their phone and access that parent support group via televideo is much easier for them. They can do that kind of on the fly. And so I think we've we've seen a lot of benefit from the use of televideo. And I think that moving forward will most likely use televideo to enhance our services. But that's certainly never takes away, it will never replace the fact that the best interventions can be provided face to face, in person.
Theresa Freed [00:03:11] And also related to children receiving services through the Mental Health Center, we've been on a sort of extended summer break, and so normally a lot of students are getting some of their counseling or therapies there at the school setting, so is the Mental Health Center finding itself kind of filling that gap?
Tim DeWeese [00:03:31] Absolutely. And, you know, we, we have a longstanding relationship with all the school districts. And so this is not anything that we haven't experienced before in, in respect to when school's not in session, it's just been extended over a period of time. So we'll, we'll continue to work to work with the schools depending upon what they decide to do. And then we'll make adjustments however we need to do to help serve those kids that, that need that support. I think one of the things that we're seeing that's specifically as a result of the pandemic, though, is just people that maybe weren't clients of ours or had not sought mental health services before. We're seeing more people experiencing, you know, anxiety, sadness, depression. I mean, even a little bit of anger and irritability. And so, oh, we're definitely reaching out to the community to say, hey, if you're having, you're having difficulty, reach out to a mental health provider, reach out to someone before it becomes problematic behavior.
Theresa Freed [00:04:29] And so I'm sure that goes for the individual, but then also loved ones of those in crisis. Can you talk about how people can reach out to you who are concerned about maybe their family members being very isolated?
Tim DeWeese [00:04:41] Yeah, absolutely. I think it's really important for us to remember that, you know, the emotional reactions that we're having to the pandemic are normal, and that we all have them, we all experience them differently, but that when we see people that are experiencing things like fear and guilt and anxiety, sadness, depression, anger, that, that we really kind of just we refocus ourselves, and remember that we're all experiencing this for the very first time, all of us. And that is a perfect time to provide one another a little grace, a little kindness and a little understanding. I think that's more important today than it's than it's been in our, in our community for a long time.
Theresa Freed [00:05:26] And I think we've, we've talked about just in various ways the importance of, you know, having distance between us, that physical distance, but, but really still having having some connections with people, so how can people do that in a meaningful way?
Tim DeWeese [00:05:43] Yeah, I think that's a really good point. I think while we have to be physically distanced from one another, we have to make sure that we maintain those social connections. And so while we can do that, utilizing technology, that's one way that we can do that. It also provides us an opportunity to revisit some family time, so parents and children spending more time together, siblings spending a little bit more time together. And then if it's a matter of maybe spending some time with friends or colleagues, you certainly can do that, as long as you're using those mitigating factors, as long as you're maintaining social distance, you're preferably outside and in your mask, and that when you do that, then you can still see people, say hello and take, check in and take care of one another.
Theresa Freed [00:06:33] Another concern I think people have with that increased isolation during the pandemic has been an increased risk or perceived increased risk for suicide. So can you talk about whether that's something that we're seeing in Johnson County? And what are what are some of the ways that that the mental health center is is addressing that concern?
Tim DeWeese [00:06:51] Yeah, absolutely. I think it's definitely a concern. And we've definitely seen a small increase in the total number of suicide suicides. But the number one demographic still remains in regards to who's most at risk, and in the large majority of deaths by suicide are still middle aged white men. But we see other areas that we're concerned about. I think that it's important to realize that we're not only dealing with the pandemic, we're also dealing with a lot of social unrest and a lot of polarization in and things within our country. And so all of those things take a toll on adults. They certainly take a toll on kids depending upon their age and and their access to media. So it takes a toll on all of us. And I think it's important that we have conversations. I think one thing that is really important for parents to think about, and particularly just the adults in general, is that this is an opportunity for us to model positive behavior. So kids may be stressed out, they may be having anxiety. They may be a little bit worried about what's going to happen. Is school going to happen? Are sports going to happen? Are we going to be able to have a homecoming dance? And all of those things are really good concerns. There are legitimate concerns. And so we as adults have to validate that. But what we know is that over a person's life, over a young person's life and even our adult lives, we are going to experience disappointments and experience hardships. And this may be the first hardship that some young people are experiencing. It's an opportunity for us to help them cope appropriately. It's important for us to then help them build resilience so that as adults and as older children, they're able to cope with the things in life that are inevitably going to be negative impacts on them. And so this is an opportunity for us. Yeah, it stinks that we may not play football, but let's take a look at what opportunities we do have and know that, that football will be back when we're able and people say that we can play it, but that's like any other sport. So I think it's important for us to just model that positive behavior and help kids become more resilient. It's a perfect opportunity for us to model that.
Theresa Freed [00:09:20] And just a question, kind of as a parent too, you know, you've got children who are missing some milestones or having to potentially delay them. So what's a good message of hope? I mean, should we. Should we be messaging? You know, at some point we'll have a vaccine, and we'll be able to do things normally again. Or do we just accept what's, what's happening now and doing things differently and then keep it positive?
Tim DeWeese [00:09:47] I don't know that you'd necessarily have to accept it, but I think that you have to be realistic with with youngsters and talk with them and listen to what they're worried about, what they're experiencing, what their sadnesses are, and then, then talk, talk through that with them, not to promise anything that we can't promise, but certainly say, you know, there will be opportunities while what we're experiencing this, you know, we are looking there will be a vaccine at some point, and there will be opportunities for us to participate and get back to the way that things possibly were in the past. But I think that, you know, if you as a parent begin to take a catastrophic view of this situation, then your your kids are going to naturally take a catastrophic view. So if you could take a more positive, you look at the things that, that are going well, I encourage people to kind of look at ways that they can maybe each morning and each night write down three things that that they're grateful for and begin to shift their thinking so that they can they can begin to look for the positives, because it's so easy right now to look for the negatives and to look for the things that are wrong with with things right now. So I think that's really important that we model that again for our kids.
Theresa Freed [00:11:07] And along those same lines, social media and just the general media, too. There's a lot of messages that that slant negative and can kind of overwhelm you. So how do people consume information related to the pandemic in a healthy way that does not, I guess, change their perception in life?
Tim DeWeese [00:11:28] Right. I think that that each adult is going to have to determine that for themselves. What, what you know, when is enough enough? I think we have to be really careful about exposing our youngsters to that onslaught of media and social media. And so I think we have to be aware their screen time. I think that there's, there's ways that maybe you could do that together if you're going to look at what the new rates are or if you're gonna look at a news story, maybe do it together so that you can actually have a conversation about it, so that then the youngsters aren't just in necessarily or even young adults creating their own narrative to it, that you can actually have a conversation with them about what that means to them, what it means to you. And then have, you know, have some dialog about what may be really going on.
Theresa Freed [00:12:21] And just to wrap things up, can you talk a little bit about what are some of the warning signs that this is beyond just a healthy fear or anxiety, but it is really start, like I said, starting to overwhelm.
Tim DeWeese [00:12:34] I think that if you start to see changes in behavior, and that's really for either adults or kids, if you start to see significant changes in behavior, maybe isolation, maybe changes in eating habits, maybe sleeping more or sleeping less. But major shifts in in behaviors. I think that's important to look at. If you look at people, particularly adults, if, if they're using unhealthy coping mechanisms like maybe drinking more than than they were before or participating in other unhealthy behaviors, I think that's a point in time. And so when you begin to see those indicators or those red flags, it's important that we reach out to those loved ones and just check in with them, ask them how they're doing. Ask them how they're coping. Maybe even share with them what your concern is and be able to have that dialog with them. I think that's really important.
Theresa Freed [00:13:27] Can you just remind our audience who, who can access Johnson County Mental Health Center and how do they do that?
Tim DeWeese [00:13:33] Absolutely. So I like to say that, that we are the gateway to mental health services in Johnson County, and so anyone that is in need of mental health treatment, that may be a risk, that, that may be having a mental health crisis, please reach out to Johnson County Mental Health Center. We may not end up being the provider of services to you, but we will certainly get you connected with the right level of care, the right provider, so we can serve as that front door to our community. And and, you know, we're evaluable available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You can certainly call us at 913-268-0156. That's our 24-hour crisis line. So I would encourage anybody that's at risk, anybody that maybe knows someone at risk, use that line, make the call, and we'll get people connected with the help they need.
Theresa Freed [00:14:06] All right. That's great information. Thank you so much for joining us today.
Tim DeWeese [00:14:10] Thanks, Theresa. I appreciate it.
Theresa Freed [00:14:11] And next, we have Erin Ross, a team leader and clinician with Johnson County Mental Health Center. She has advice to help families.
Erin Ross [00:14:18] As we look towards kids going back to school during an uncertain and stressful time. I wanted to share a few ideas to help manage this new normal. Since some things are going to look very different for school this year, it can be helpful to create a new structure and routine to help things feel more predictable for everyone when there are so many unknowns, so when you're creating a new routine, it's important to do it together so that everybody is on the same page and is aware as the new expectations or changes. Write it out on a whiteboard together or a piece of paper. Put it in a visible place so that everybody can see it, and then sit down together to review it as a family. Make sure that everyone in the family is included so that they know their new responsibilities and expectations and ask questions to make sure that everybody has a good understanding of what the new routine looks like. For younger kids, it might be helpful to practice along with them so that they can learn with an adult and make sure they know what the new routine looks like. Some things to practice might be packing their lunch, setting out clothes for the next day, gathering up book bags and other school materials and setting them by the door or making their bed. It's also important to remember to set aside enough time for all of the tasks to be completed and for everybody to practice having patience. Learning a new routine can be hard, and it just takes time, patience and consistency for everybody to become comfortable. Visual aids are also really great and can be helpful in everybody remembering the new routine when they are working on learning it. Incorporating something fun or relaxing to do as a family into your routine can also be really helpful in reducing stress and anxiety. Some ideas of things to do could be going on a bike ride together or a walk or a hike. Not only are you spending time together as a family, but physical activity can be really helpful in reducing stress and anxiety. Some other ideas and things to do could be creating a music playlist together, setting aside time to play a game as a family or having a family movie night. I hope that these ideas can provide some relief and planning for the new school year. And remember to have patience with yourself and your family as everybody adjusts to a new way of doing things.
Theresa Freed [00:16:28] And hear Sierra Wright with tips for adults and children on coping with change as we head back to school.
Sierra Wright [00:16:35] We know the decisions parents are facing around school are really difficult decisions to make. And we know that you will make the best choice for your student and family this fall. So what can parents and children do to cope with a new routine or going back to school? Here are just a few ideas. Children can do to cope. Listen to music, focusing on the whole song or listening specifically to a voice or an instrument within the song. Coloring. Focusing on the different colors and designs. Blowing bubbles. Noticing the different shapes and colors and textures. Meditating. Sitting in a relaxed, comfortable position, and pick something to focus on, like breathing. Have a mindful meal, by paying attention to the smell, the taste and look of the food without multitasking. Doing belly breathing by putting one hand on their stomach and one another chest and slowly breathing in from the stomach like a balloon and slowly breathing out to deflate. Squeeze muscles by starting at their toes, picking one muscle and squeezing and counting to five and releasing and repeating by moving up throughout their body. Many of the coping skills we just discussed can be used at home or school or in between transitions. We know this pandemic has been challenging for everyone, so what can we do as parents to help our children? We can acknowledge our own anxiety and take care of ourselves. Don't be afraid to discuss COVID-19 in an age appropriate way with your child by conveying the facts and reassuring them. Focus on what you're doing to stay safe and what is within our control, things like social distancing in hand hygiene. Be a role model for our kids. They learn from our example. It's also important to establish and maintain a daily routine as this helps provide a sense of control for our children. Lastly, watch out for behavioral changes within your child and reach out for help for your child or for yourself or anyone you care about who is struggling. Johnson County Mental Health Center has a 24/7 crisis line that can be called at 913-268-0156.
Theresa Freed [00:19:22] Next up, we're going to hear from Susan Rome, deputy director of Johnson County Mental Health Center. She has some tips on taking care of yourself.
Susan Rome [00:19:29] In these challenging times, it can be even more difficult to find the time to take care of ourselves. And yet self care is important now more than ever. We'll offer you three short suggestions for things you can try just to help yourself throughout your day. The first is deep breathing. Consider setting your timer or phone for just one minute. Try this three times throughout your day. Take some deep breaths, slow and clear your mind and be ready to move on for the next part of your day. Another suggestion is just to simply pause and reflect on something that's going well or you're content with in your life or in your day. It can be as simple as the sun is shining, maybe a project you finished, anything that's makes you happy or content. Reflecting on the positives can again help reset our minds as we move on throughout our day. A third suggestion is taking a moment of appreciation for someone else. This can help them feel good, of course, but it also helps us feel good. Again, this can be something very simple, perhaps an encouraging text, a thank you Post-it note, maybe even taking the time to write a thank you note. So those are three small ways that you can get started in self care. I hope you'll consider trying one of these. Take care.
Theresa Freed [00:20:59] For more information about services available at Johnson County Mental Health Center, go to jocogov.org. We also have a link for you in the show notes of this episode. And for more information about COVID-19 in Johnson County, including data that's updated daily, visit jocogov.org/coronavirus. Thanks for listening.
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