Access to COVID-19 vaccines could be stress reliever needed during pandemic, mental health professionals say

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Stress levels have been high for many people during the coronavirus pandemic, according to mental health professionals at the McNabb Center.

However, they are expecting access to the COVID-19 vaccine to be a much-needed stress reliever.

“Access to vaccines will bring a sense of hope to individuals who have been feeling high levels of anxiety or stress during the global pandemic,” said Jerry Vagnier, McNabb Center’s president and CEO.

“We all know that mental health has been an ongoing concern and it is essential that we work together as a community to focus on the positive strides we have seen,” he continued.

Dr. Kellye Hudson, Director Nursing at the McNabb Center, said the center’s call volume for in-person visits, telehealth consults and through the COVID-19 hotline have increased in recent months.

She said patients are mostly stressed out about the pandemic because of the unknown.

“Not knowing when the virus is going to be over with; not knowing when I’m going to get the vaccine, not knowing when things are going to get back to normal. It’s the not knowing. That’s ultimately the one thing that’s causing a lot of this stress,” Hudson said.

She said the vaccine is a game changer because it’s a source of hope.

“The vaccine provides a light at the end of a very long tunnel,” Hudson said.

Hudson said that for many, the vaccine signifies an opportunity to reclaim some sense of normalcy in our lives.

“By getting the vaccine we know at some point we can start getting back to doing things that we used to be able to do without having a lot of the worry and the fear behind a lot of that. And not being so isolated. That’s another really key factor throughout this pandemic,” Hudson said.

Although the vaccine is becoming more available, the fact many people can’t get appointments for the vaccine can cause additional stress.

Hudson said though eventually, it will be a stress reliever once more people are able to get it and feel a little more protected.

“I can’t give a timeline, but I do eventually believe that we’ll get to that point where the majority of everyone is vaccinated. And a lot of people are really, they’re just waiting. They’re just wanting to get it. They’re in line if they can get it right now, they would’ve gotten it yesterday,” Hudson said.

Hudson said while people still wait for the vaccine, they should connect with friends and families in a safe way; if people are working from home, take breaks outside; or call the McNabb Center for help.

According to McNabb Center staff, behavioral health in the community must still be prioritized as the state continues rolling out vaccines for high risk individuals and essential workers.

The McNabb Center applauds state and local health department efforts in distributing the vaccines.

At this point, leaders said the behavioral health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic may be long-lasting, but are not known.

Generally speaking, high levels of stress and anxiety can trigger mental health and/or substance use symptoms. If untreated, these mental health conditions can grow and affect the individual, their family and the greater community, according to McNabb Center leaders.

At the beginning of the pandemic, when stay-at-home orders were in place, Knox County saw a rise of suicides.

However, according to staff at the Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network, preliminary data shows there has not been an increase of suicides during the pandemic.

Staff said, though, there has been a large increase for people looking for help for their suicidal thoughts.

If you or a loved one are experiencing mental health concerns related to COVID-19, the McNabb Center can help.

Call the COVID-19 helpline at (855) 661-9191 for access to free resource assistance and emotional support at the McNabb Center.

If you or a loved one have suicidal thoughts, call the Tennessee Statewide Crisis Line at 855-CRISIS-1 (855-274-7471); or text the Crisis Text Line by texting TN to 741741.

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