Mental health experts urge Washingtonians to seek help during this pivotal time

The pandemic, social unrest, job losses, and more recently the wildfires have the state's mental health experts on high alert. The stressors that are causing all of the mental anguish is unprecedented and it's concerning. 

"People are reporting escalating levels of feeling depressed, anxious, and worried more days than not over the past week," said Dr. Meg Cary, King County Behavioral Health and Recovery Division Child Psychiatrist.

Recent statistics, according to Cary, are showing the increase in mental health needs.

"For example, at this point, about 40% of the adults in the Seattle, Bellevue, Tacoma metro areas report feeling anxious most days of the week. That number increases to 50% for multi-racial adults," said Cary. 

A recent study from the King County Community Center for Education Results surveyed more than 200 young people in the county involved in opportunity youth programs and found that 62% said COVID negatively impacted their health, Cary said.

And as the Fall season approaches, there is concern that the mental health of Washingtonians could get worse. 

"We are quite worried about the increase in suicide, overdoes, domestic violence, homicide, in child maltreatment. It may happen as we extend into the Fall," she said. 

That is why there is a push from the mental health community, advocates, and the state, for people to seek help, if they need it. 

"I would anticipate that as this goes on longer, if people haven't adapted after three-to-six months, they fall into a learned helplessness," said Dr. Albert Tsai, a psychiatrist for Overlake Medical Center and Clinics.

According to Tsai, the symptoms of the patients is becoming more severe. 

"I think in August, maybe it was July, we hit a record with patient visits. Our partial program is filled to capacity," said Tsai. "A lot of people have had job changes, furloughs and so there may be a job instability that people report on or fear of losing their jobs. Some people who work from home now, especially the children, they struggle with learning how to homeschool, and with all the unanswered questions about school and what that’s going to look like long-term, adds an additional stressor."

And while it sounds like doom-and-gloom, experts say there are many simple steps that people can do to feel better. Exercise is a proven treatment, said Tsai. 

"There's plenty of studies that talk about exercise, three to five times a week, 30-50 minutes at a time, is an evidence-based treatment for depression that's mild and moderate," he said. 

He also suggests being aware of how much media (news, entertainment, and social media) you're consuming. He said many of his patients have high anxiety 

"Is it a healthy thing to pay attention on all of those up to the minute things. Do you need that much level of control?" Tsai said.

Another step is listening to Lauri Kraus of Redmond. 

"We can either take the option of living our life by the present or we can sit back and let life live us," said Kraus.

Lauri is a patient of Dr. Tsai. Last year, she went through severe depression and anxiety. 

"I didn’t know my head from my tail as they say," she said. "I made decisions through my employer, I made decisions in buying things. And as the bills started adding up, I’d get more and more depressed."

But after going through therapy, and learning tools to help cope, when COVID hit, she had a much different outlook. 

"Basically I’ve got to have time back that I wasn’t able to have before. I’m not stuck in traffic. That creates a quality of life right there. I got to learn to cook. I got time with my children," said Kraus. 

She was able to lose 55 pounds and learn to cook more as well.

Along with self-care, people need to check-in on each other.

"I send them, not a text, I actually send them a physical card in the mail. I might bring flowers to my neighbors," said Kraus.

There are three basic approaches that people can do to feel better, said Cary. Check in with yourself, reflect on how you're feeling and how others are feeling. Connect to others, figure out ways to connect with friends, support groups, and loved ones. And take care of your mind, body, spirit and community, she said.

"We need to break down the stigma of emotional health and well-being. We need to break down the stigma of acknowledging that we’re struggling," said Dr. Cary.

Here are a few resources if you need mental health help:

  • Crisis Connections 24-hour crisis hotline: 866-427-4747 or text HOME to 741741
  • King County 2-1-1:  connects callers to health and human services resources
  • www.kingcounty.gov/covid/support: more information about mental health and resiliency resources for people struggling during the pandemic
  • Care Crisis Line: 800-584-3578
  • Care Crisis Chat: www.imhurting.org
  • National Suicide Prevention Hotline (800) 273-TALK (8255)
  • The Disaster Distress Hotline: (800) 985-5990
  • Washington Listens: (833) 681-0211