On Your Side: Mental health screening spikes amid COVID-19 pandemic


TENNESSEE (WATE) — Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, mental health professionals report the number of people in East Tennessee getting a mental health checkup has tripled.

One in five Tennesseans will be affected by mental illness every year. However, nearly two-thirds of those with a diagnosable disorder do not get the treatment and support that would help them recover.

Mental health is a key part of your overall health.

Brief screenings, that you can do online, are the quickest way to determine if you, or someone you care about, should connect with a mental health professional.

Over the last eleven months, the pandemic has affected a lot people in many ways.

In May of 2018, Ben Harrington, the director of the Mental Health Association of East Tennessee, directed me through the confidential online mental health screening program.

“What will happen in the screening is the person will answer a number of questions, then the tool will calculate the answers, then if you screen positive, you will get that report right there on the screen.”

Ben Harrington

The questions we screened were for depression.

On average around 3,000 people take this free mental health checkup yearly but the numbers nearly tripled last year when COVID-19 hit and restaurants were closed, people were laid off and continue to be out of work, feeding programs were more important than ever — COVID-19 was having a huge impact on the mental health of our community.

“In 2020, with the pandemic, that number grew from 3,000 to 10,712. Certainly, fear [is driving the spike], nervousness, and anxiety were things that were identified. If someone is sleeping way too much that is a huge change. So, I’d start looking for changes. For depression, those symptoms might be loss of sleep, change in appetite, inability, to focus or concentrate, a lot of lethargy.”

Ben Harrington

A survey by Pew Research shows 48% of Americans responded saying they felt depressed about the pandemic from three days to seven days a week. 43% felt anxious and 42% felt lonely sometimes from three to seven days a week.

Harrington says if you participate in the mental health screening checkup and find out what is troubling you, he suggests taking the next step: seeking professional assistance to help improve your mental health.

“That’s the biggest step and the hardest step is taking a look at yourself seeing if I have that need. Then the next step is also hard, that it making a call to talk with a professional to figure out what it is that is truly going on and to start down that road to get help.”

Ben Harrington

The mental health screenings provide a quick, free, and anonymous way to identify whether you may be experiencing symptoms commonly associated with an illness.

Those who suffer from episodes of depression, poor performance at work or school, or trouble keeping up with personal responsibilities should not delay in getting help.

The pandemic has not made things easier.

The mental health screening is available on the Mental Health Association of East Tennessee’s website, https://www.mhaet.com/

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