Data from the National Center for Health Statistics and the U.S. Census Bureau suggests that a third of Americans are dealing with symptoms of stress or anxiety amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, while Boston University researchers recently found that half of U.S. adults were reporting at least some symptoms of depression.

Michael Ehling, executive administrator for the Crawford County Mental Health Center (CCMHC), spoke at last Friday’s county commission meeting, urging area residents to seek assistance if they have been feeling a mental health impact from the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I’d like to talk about another contagion just very briefly here, and that’s just the whole fear thing that underlies a lot of what gets connected to COVID," Ehling said. "We know that when people are exposed to fear-inducing situations, the first thing that gets activated is not the thinking part of their brain but actually the basal part of their brain."

Reactions to such situations can include increased heart rate, sweaty palms, and a variety of other responses, Ehling said, and as fear increases it tends to override the thinking and decision-making part of the brain in the prefrontal cortex.

With all of the precautions that have been promoted and required by government mandates in recent months, such as wearing facemasks, frequently using hand sanitizer, and social distancing, some may be reluctant to seek in-person mental health services.

The CCMHC, private practitioners in the area, and organizations such as the Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas, however, are prepared to offer remote services, Ehling said.

"People may still be afraid of going out to seek out mental health services, and I would say most all of us now have the telehealth technology and Zoom capacity that it doesn’t necessarily have to even require coming into an office to get services, and so I’d just like to encourage the community to seek out mental health services whenever they are in a situation where they’re being overwhelmed by just the response of what COVID is bringing to our community," he said.

"There’s no shame in seeking out services for mental health," Ehling said. "This affects us all."