Mental health issues rise in Saginaw as pandemic nears year one


SAGINAW, MI – Before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Hattie Norwood, a 32-year-old U.S. Army veteran, community organizer and mother of three, was busy working in a career she loved and raising her school-aged children.

And, like many people, she also lived with a mental illness.

Then the pandemic changed everything.

“Over the years, I have learned a lot of things to help me cope, and the pandemic has only magnified the need,” said Norwood, who suffers from PTSD, anxiety and of depression. “I need and want stability. I like to know what’s coming. Not knowing what is coming is difficult.

Overwhelmed by worry and trying to balance her work as a homeless veterans coordinator with her children’s online schooling, Norwood’s mental health deteriorated. She was afraid of falling ill and passing it on to her children, who do not have health insurance, and felt “unsuitable” as a teacher. She worried about the economy and the racial climate. It all culminated in what she described as an “emotional break” and a week-long hospitalization in May at Battle Creek VA Medical Center. She quit her job soon after.

“It was just heavy like that,” said the Carrollton Township woman. “I want my kids to have the best possible chance, and it’s like the virus is out of our control.”

Norwood is not alone. Mental health professionals in the Saginaw area have seen an increased need for their services since the pandemic began almost a year ago.

“We get a number of referrals per week,” said Twannie L. Gray, full-time therapist and director of Behavioral Health Solutions at Saginaw. “(The pandemic) has caused boredom, loneliness, anger, depression, anxiety, denial and hopelessness.”

Insomnia and the use of harmful substances are also on the rise, said Gray, who has been a mental health professional since 2005. More and more people are seeking advice for the first time, “people who were flying under the skin. radar before the pandemic “. He said he had never seen anything like it in his 16-year career.

“I see people who usually walk around with depressive symptoms, but maybe they felt they weren’t clinically important enough to seek help,” he said.

Even before the pandemic, mental illnesses were common. Nearly one in five American adults lived with mental illness in 2019, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. End of June 2020, approximately three months after the start of the pandemic and the confirmation of Michigan’s first coronavirus cases40% of American adults reported having mental health or substance abuse problems, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Now, an increased need for mental health resources is apparent at the local and state levels.

In central Michigan, the Saginaw County Community Mental Health Authority has responded to an increased need for services by extending its hours of operation. Call 989-797-3400 or visit for more information.

The The State of Michigan has launched a hotline for mental health support earlier in the pandemic. Counselors are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to help residents cope with any mental health crisis, including anxiety, financial stress, suicidal thoughts and domestic violence, via text message. In addition, the state’s Stay Well counseling line is available 24 hours a day. If you are experiencing emotional distress due to the COVID-19 pandemic, dial 1-888-535-6136 and press 8 for get free, confidential support from a Michigan Stay Well counselor.

Click here to find more Michigan State mental health resources.

Gray said people are also experiencing more grief and loss now. At the end of February, Michigan was reporting a total of more than 15,000 deaths from COVID-19, and the death toll in the United States was over half a million.

In addition to mourning lost loved ones, “people mourn their past lives.”

“Virtual learning, online meetings was cool for a while, but at the end of the day we have to feel each other’s energy,” Gray said.

Nathalie Menendes is Clinical Director and one of the partners / owners of Saginaw Psychological Services, 2100 Hemmeter Road in Saginaw Township. She has seen more symptoms of anxiety and depression in existing and new patients since the start of the pandemic.

“There has certainly been a trend towards an increased need for mental health services,” she said. “Stressors are multifaceted.

Health issues, financial strain, family conflicts, isolation, changes in school and work routines, substance use disorders and relapses are some of the challenges people have faced. over the past year.

Saginaw Psychological Services offers telehealth appointments and in-person appointments if needed. The more than 50 staff therapists, along with case management teams and recovery coaches, collectively provide several thousand services each month.

“The need has increased across the board,” Menendes said.

Anyone who is worried about their mental health or that of a loved one should watch for: mood swings, crying spells, increased irritability, feelings of hopelessness, suicidal thoughts, panic attacks , increased conflict with loved ones, changes in sleep patterns or appetite, impulsivity and harmful behaviors, and seeking help when needed, she said.

It is also important to nurture relationships with others and to “find the little moments of joy in their day”.

“They have to find ways to connect with others even if it can’t be face to face, so phones, Zoom, FaceTime. It’s really important, ”Menendes said. “Everything about personal care is very, very important now, maybe, more than ever.”

Gray encouraged people to be alert to changes in their energy levels, mood, self-talk, and sleep patterns, and to seek help when needed. Solutions Behavioral Health, located at 1010 N. Niagara St. in Saginaw, offers individual counseling, relationship counseling, family counseling and group counseling. Virtual, telephone and, in some cases, in person appointments are available.

Counseling is one part of the “personal care toolkit,” Gray said. He also recommends that people engage in healthy activities that help them feel better, such as family game nights, watching a favorite movie, eating a favorite meal, exercising, doing yoga and exercising. pray.

“Just be kind to yourself and be kind to others,” he said. “You just have to become more aware of yourself. You know. It is the best start for any healing.

Dismantle the stigma

Like Norwood, 20-year-old Molly Conden-Popielarz suffered from mental illness before the pandemic, and her symptoms were made worse by the disruption of daily life and the stress that followed.

Conden-Popielarz, who suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD, and anxiety, found out that she was pregnant with her first child just before the coronavirus and COVID-19 changed her life. In March 2020, she was fired from her job as a waitress in a restaurant. Eight months later, her son was born.

“I’ve had OCD for about a year and a half now, and I was sort of getting over and over, and then COVID hits and you hear all the experts say to you, ‘Wash you hands wash your hands, ”and it’s just back,” the Carrollton Township woman said. “I constantly wash my hands. My hands are dry and cracked and are bleeding from washing them so much.

Since her baby was born and the weather turned cold, Conden-Popielarz has felt more isolated at home. She no longer socializes with family members and friends in person like she once did, and she has not returned to work because she is worried about leaving her baby with someone else as the threat of COVID-19 persists.

“I was able to do more when I was pregnant, like going out and going, because I could wear a mask for myself and my baby. But now that he’s here, he can’t really wear a mask, ”she said. “I chose to stay home because I would rather not risk making him sick, and my mother is at very high risk.”

All this time at home made her experience symptoms of dissociation, she said. Life is “like a blur”.

“I do the same thing every day. I wake up, I take care of the baby, I stay at home, ”she said. “It’s like constantly repeating the same day over and over again.”

Conden-Popielarz said weekly telehealth therapy helps. Talking helps.

“It’s kinda scary keeping those feelings bottled up,” she said.

Norwood was first diagnosed with PTSD around 2008, but didn’t seek treatment until a few years later.

“I think PTSD stems from my (military) service. I think anxiety and depression have developed over the years with the stigma of PTSD. For years I was ashamed of it and received no help, ”she said. “I kept it to myself and felt ashamed of it until I couldn’t fend for myself.”

Now, says Norwood, she is “overcoming” her mental health issues. His hospitalization at the start of the pandemic helped.

“I am grateful for this short stay. Grateful to be a veteran with the resources that are at our disposal. If it weren’t for the wonderful staff at (Battle Creek VA Medical Center), I don’t know if I would have bounced back so hard, ”she said.

Norwood, a community organizer who has been involved in the Black Lives Matter protests and Proactive community participation, or PCI, who delivered thousands of free meals to children earlier in the pandemic, hopes sharing her story will help others. She said the stigma surrounding mental illness “must be dismantled”.

“It’s good to recognize that you are having difficulty and to get help,” she said. “Just because someone has a mental illness or whatever it is that doesn’t mean they are unable to provide a service or do the job. “

Conden-Popielarz agreed that mental health “must be addressed”. She wants people to know that having a mental illness is not a choice, and she wants people who are struggling to know that they are not alone.

“A lot of people’s lives have changed, and people feel like they are going through it alone, but a lot of people are dealing with the same,” she said.

Conden-Popielarz could not celebrate her pregnancy or the birth of her son as she had hoped, like a baby shower. When she thinks about the future and about post-pandemic life, she wants to make up for it.

“I can’t wait to celebrate my baby with everyone and be able to share it,” she said. “And I am delighted to be back to work.”

She encouraged others to look to the future with optimism.

“Expect better days. It’s not going to be like that forever.

Learn more about MLive:

Mental health issues are on the rise in Michigan families during the pandemic. Here are their stories.

Emotional trauma from pandemic leads Whitmer to seek more funding for mental health

Michigan Launches Mental Health Crisis Text Line For Support During Coronavirus

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