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Sunday, May 19, 2024

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Get Up, Get Dressed, Go Out, Therapist, Mom Advises

Get Up

By Karen Knight

To access the Herald’s local coronavirus/COVID-19 coverage, click here.
UPPER TOWNSHIP – “I’m not going to waste a perfectly good crisis,” said local therapist Mike Huber, when asked about coping mechanisms to use during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Make your ‘should do’ list and get it done,” he added.
An Ocean City licensed professional counselor for about 30 years, Huber asked, “Why waste this time? When it’s over, you don’t want to say you should have done this or that. Do it now.”
Huber, along with one mom, who has seen first-hand teens struggling with depression, agreed that the pandemic, associated social distancing, and other restrictions have “robbed” people of socialization opportunities. However, they believe it has presented opportunities for self-improvement, a greater appreciation for what could have been considered mundane activities, and a chance to realize “we really are our brother’s keeper.”
“It’s not human nature to sit alone,” said Greta Parrott-Schwartz, of Upper Township, who describes herself as a “mom, with no medical background, just personal experience with people who have experienced teen suicides and depression.”
“Kids, especially, need human interaction. We aren’t in the middle of New York City. We can’t stay isolated forever,” she added.
“Just get up, get dressed and go out,” she advised. “It does wonders for your mental health if you just go outside.”
Mental Health Awareness Month
During May, which is National Mental Health Month, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) joins Mental Health America in raising awareness about mental health. Americans have grown increasingly anxious, as they’ve seen the pandemic upend their lives within a short period. Both organizations say it is now more important than ever to pay attention to mental health during this time of isolation and uncertainty.
Huber pointed to Gen Zers – those born in 1997 or later – who have used social media as their main communication tool to better understand the new virtual world the pandemic created.
“That’s what is sustaining life right now,” he said, about social media. “Out of catastrophes, great things can happen. There can be changes coming after this pandemic that are positive.”
Huber believes proper nutrition and exercise are key to staying mentally healthy, “but then COVID-19 hit, and everyone is staying in, eating more, not exercising,” he pointed out.
“Create new routines,” he advised. “Limit your drinking or eating. Don’t eat for comfort. Discipline yourself by establishing new routines. Clean your house, purge items, donate them. Check on people in your social network. Read books. Work out. Connect with friends outside for walks.”
“Maintain a sense of humor,” he added, “and a sense of faith, hope, mission and purpose. We tend to cheapen what is considered normal. Now, we may have a greater appreciation for a handshake, or for the act of going to work or going to school. We may cherish more the interaction with family or friends or the craft of teaching live when this is over.
“Don’t fight it, embrace it, and see where it will take you,” Huber said. “I think the lesson is we really are our brother’s keeper.”
Use of Medications Increase
Research from Express Scripts reveals the number of prescriptions filled per week for anti-depressant, anti-anxiety, and anti-insomnia medications increased 21% between Feb. 16-March 15, peaking the week ending March 15, when COVID-19 was declared a pandemic.
The research also shows that the use of anti-depressants, especially among teenagers, has increased significantly. While Express Scripts says there is evidence that more teenagers and young adults are also getting access to help and receiving treatment, Parrott-Schwartz called the mental health system a “disgrace,” citing medical protocols, social media, medication side effects, and other factors as creating the “train wreck,” and wants the community to be aware of the issues to take action.
Read Labels for Side Effects
“Insurance companies dictate the level of care a child receives. Not the parents, not the doctor,” Parrott-Schwartz said. “Psychiatric prescription drugs carry extremely harmful side effects, yet are being prescribed at the highest rates ever.”
“Read medication labels for medicinal side effects. Even check the label on an asthma inhaler,” she added.
As a personal trainer, Parrott-Schwartz said she encourages people to go outside, “even if it’s just to get the mail,” as a positive way to deal with stress or feelings of isolation.
“I know there is a huge difference in my mood if I get out of my pajamas and get dressed,” she added. “Get up, walk outside, releasing some endorphins helps to make you feel better, so much better than just sitting around. Have a plan for the day.”
In 2016, the then 48-year-old Parrott-Schwartz walked 80 miles to Trenton, carrying a casket with about 70 names of people who committed suicide who were personally connected to her. She wanted to bring attention to the destruction caused by mental health issues and raised money to benefit mental health advocacy organizations.
After the walk, she turned one of her efforts to administering a Facebook page, “A Revolution for Mental Health Care in America,” hoping that by sharing experiences, the stigma associated with mental health will stop and people will be more willing to seek help.
Today’s Facebook “chatter” during the pandemic indicates people are looking for human interaction, especially teens, Parrott-Schwartz said.
“I’m really concerned about the kids graduating college this year,” she noted. “It’s scary when things are normal, but today, the kids are going out into the world and have nothing. Those who planned internships or jobs this summer, what do they have now? Nothing.”
Her 19-year-old college daughter is taking all the online classes she can, according to her mother.
“She’s doing Facetime with friends, staying connected, Parrott-Schwartz said, “but I teach at Atlantic Community College, and some of my students have stopped: stopped responding to emails, stopped participating in the classes, just stopped. What about those kids?”
If You Need Help
PerformCare was one state service Huber and Parrot-Schwartz said provides help up to age 21. It is the single point of access for New Jerseyans to access several behavioral health, intellectual and developmental disability services, among others. It can be reached 24/7, at 1 (877) 652-7624 or performcarenj.org
Additional services can be reached by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1 (800) 273-8255 (TALK), which is available 24/7, or the state’s Mental Health Hotline, at 1 (866) 202-4357.
“This can be the best of times, and it can be the worst of times,” Huber said. “Will you waste this experience or come out of it valuing life more?
“There is a Bible passage that pain gets you patience, patience gives you perseverance, perseverance gets you better character, and better character gives you hope. That’s what I have, hope. For me and the world,” he added.
To contact Karen Knight, email kknight@cmcherald.com.

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