Mental health clinics have seen an increase of clients, both old and new, partly due to the increase of stress patients have experienced since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Echota Behavioral Health is a counseling service clinic that has opened since the start of the pandemic. The service has since filled a growing need within the community.

Jimmie Fite, director of Echota Behavioral Health, has seen an increase in a variety of psychological health issues, so she has helped launch the Talking Circles podcast. She hope to use this service to normalize discussion on issues related to behavioral health.

“A lot of kids are being home-schooled, and with more people at the house, we see domestic issues, and that can be related to the pandemic. The main problem people are experiencing is fear,” said Fite.

Randy Gibson is moderator of the podcast and has helped with its operations, and he will be primarily talking to Fite and Kathryn Bishop at Echota. He explained that they plan to talk about different aspects of behavioral health, including anxiety, bipolar, self-care, and suicide. The program is on Spotify, Anchor FM, and iHeartMedia, and after only one episode, it has been distributed throughout the United States and in Europe.

“People are suffering from anxiety and depression, and Echota is working on the mental effects of the pandemic, which to me are worse than the physical ones,” said Gibson.

Echota is working with clients through telecommunications. Counselors do see people face-to-face, but they need to take their temperature before coming into the clinic.

“After we opened up, we had to bring in more therapists. The pandemic has made us increase our employees and case managers,” said Fite.

Amber Gutierrez is the CREOKS Health Services vice president of marketing and communications, based out of Tulsa. She has also seen an increase of clients throughout the organization’s 24 locations, and she said one reason is the uncertainty of the job market.

“People are suffering because they have lost a job, or because they fear they will lose a job,” said Gutierrez.

She also cited anxiety about being able to hug another person, and that people feel stress from having to distance themselves from their family members. This, in turn, can lead to depression. Every now and then, counselors see that depression can trigger concurrent conditions, such as substance abuse and violence.

Gutierrez noted there are reasons to remain positive about the pandemic. CREOKS has moved most of its clients to videoconferencing, and that has made it easier for people who have transportation and mobility issues. It has kept them safe at home, and they have noticed a decrease in no-shows.

CREOKS has creatively overcome many of its challenges, such as in group counseling sessions. Staffers now drop off kits at the homes of clients to give them an artistic outlet for use in their Zoom sessions.

Krista Baird, licensed counselor at Phoenix Counseling Services in Stilwell, said many of her clients are afraid to go out in public because of the pandemic. Others are afraid to wear masks because they trigger memories of domestic violence.

“That has been a big complaint from our clients. We have an increase in people needing services during isolation and anxiety from the pandemic,” said Baird.

Many people are teaching their children at home, but may not have the time, infrastructure, or know-how to do it without raising a substantial amount of anxiety at home. The pandemic is affecting children and students, both in and out of school buildings.

“Activities and sports are no more, and things look very differently. Birthday parties are now just close family, and that is impactful for kids. I believe we will see negative impacts from the pandemic for years to come,” said Baird.

She believes parents can help at this time by making sure children understand social distancing measures by also distancing them from fear.

“I think that in the end, we are pulling together more, we are showing that we care, and when we wear masks, it is not out of fear, but for the sake of other people,” said Baird.

There's another bright spot. Due to the circumstances of the pandemic, Baird has seen an increase in compassion throughout the community. She has noticed people going out of their way for their elderly neighbors to pick up groceries at Walmart.

“I’ve seen some of that, which is good for society, and it’s good for our mental health,” she said.

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