Tiffany Haney, the Director of Outpatient Services at Pathways in Ashland, said that the mental stress of the COVID-19 pandemic affects every segment of the population.

“But the segment of the population we have seen the most dramatic change in would be the kids,” Haney said. “They are reporting more instances of depression especially, but anxiety as well. ... We have school-based therapists in all of our schools.”

But the troubles seen during the pandemic are in addition to other issues some children might have already had.

“We have some kids who are struggling anyway,” Haney said. Now, with a lack of structure in their lives due to the upheaval of the pandemic, she said it has become worse for some. “And they really depend upon the therapist to help them manage all sorts of things from academics to stress. And, of course, this is in addition to concerns such as peer pressure and relationship issues. It has been a little bit of an issue to get the kids seen by the therapist that need to be seen.”

Haney said she has seen a growth in the number of children who need to be seen by a therapist since the pandemic began. And the numbers have also gone up with those who are being referred to therapists.

“Some people are not accustomed to the virtual world, either,” Haney said. “We are fortunate in the fact that we already had telehealth set up before the pandemic.” That preparedness was made possible through a grant from United Health Care, and Haney said they were able to set up all of their offices and equipment early. “So we were ahead of the game on that.” Still, there were issues, especially involving the very young students.

“But on the grade school aged children we have therapists that are specifically trained. They have found some ways, virtually, to be able to use different platforms and apps to pull them in and keep them engaged. But of course we aren’t able to keep them as engaged as we would with one on one therapy. It might not be as long a duration with the virtual, but it’s more intensive,” Haney said.

Haney said Pathways was looking ahead, and had provided the schools with binders when they reopened in August of this year. Those binders contained a lot of resources and links to resources to help the schools during the pandemic. Some of the topics of those resources are “Trauma and Kids,” “helping children/adolescents, families and educators cope and deal with stressors related to the pandemic,” “Self-Care for Educators” and “Supporting our Community during the pandemic.” But the younger children are not the only ones affected, Haney said. The problems caused by the pandemic spread over the entire community.

“We have seen increased instances of substance abuse,” Haney said. “And a lot of the elderly folks we are see are just struggling. Part of it is because families don’t really want to go around them because they are afraid of infecting them. But whatever the reason, they are isolated and lonely.”

Mobility issues are often a contributing factor to the elderly’s isolation, she said. “Many of them don’t drive, or are forced to depend upon someone else to drive them. So it’s difficult on them too because just like everyone else they need someone to hug them and love them, and we just can’t do that now.”

Haney said typically the elderly are not comfortable with using technology. “But we have been lucky in that we have been able to use the telephone a lot. Before, the telephone was not an option for us to use,” Haney said, citing previous regulations that prevented that. But with a recent relaxing of those regulations, Pathways is now able to use the telephone with certain patients. “Where before we could only reach out through case management, now we are able to use the telephone with those who don’t have access to technology.

“That is so beneficial to them,” Haney said. “Because sometimes they just need someone to talk to.”

Haney also said that some ways people could help their community, and to help relieve the stress and emotional tension in others would be to simply reach out whether by phone, email or social media. Some things such as social media should be limited however because the stream of news stories can be overwhelming and actually add to the individual’s stress. Talking to family and friends always helps, she said, and even meeting in an outdoor area where social distancing is possible can help ease tension caused by the pandemic.

“And if you think someone is struggling or feeling isolated, then be the one who reaches out to them. We have to do this together, and we have to do it in a different way. But we have to do it,” Haney said.

Haney said Pathways is committed to serving the needs of the community — whatever those needs might be — any way they possibly can.

“If you feel like you are struggling, if you feel as though your mood is lower than normal, or if you feel as if you are worrying more and are more anxious, then just reach out because we have lots of services to help people,” Haney said.

For those concerned about the price of services, Haney said Pathways takes most insurance and even has a means of helping with low income-based payments. “So payment really shouldn’t be an issue,” Haney said.

Pathways can be reached at 1-866-233-1955, locally at (606) 324-1141, or at pathways-ky.org. Haney said that there are people waiting to help regardless of how an individual contacts them.

“We have a ‘no wrong-door policy;’ we are ready to provide services no matter what door you come through.”

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