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Tri-County health specialist: The COVID-19 surge compounds the stress and anxiety of the holidays

211218 Dave Mingus.jpg
Joe Deacon
Dave Mingus, a licensed behavioral health professional with Unity Point Health-Unity Place, speaks during the weekly Tri-County health briefing Thursday at the Noble Center in Peoria.

The holidays can be a stressful time of year for many people, and the surging COVID-19 pandemic is adding to the problem.

With the Tri-County’s COVID-19 caseload climbing sharply during the Christmas season, public health specialists are urging people to take care of their mental well-being in addition to their physical condition.

Dave Mingus, a licensed behavioral health professional with UnityPoint Health-UnityPlace, said a survey by the National Alliance on Health indicates about two-thirds of people with diagnosed mental health disorders experience stronger symptoms during the holidays.

“We find that those statistics have increased significantly last year since the pandemic, and not just the pandemic but also the economic situation is a contributing factor as well,” said Mingus. “There’s a lot of uncertainty with our population, and we find it even more so with our youth than usual.

“We're experiencing tremendous increases in anxiety and depression among young people, and young people are more inclined to act out on it, as far as potential suicide or self-harm, than adults at times.”

Mingus said that COVID-19 has led to an increasing number of people with mental health issues.

“Many people don't realize that in the last year we've had a significant spike among adults: we estimate approximately 4 out of 10 adults are suffering from some type of anxiety or depression symptoms,” said Mingus. “These numbers serve as an important reminder that this season is not joyful for all.”

Mingus said some tips to limiting stress over the holidays include setting boundaries and avoiding activities that can produce heightened anxiety. He recommended staying away from situations that can lead to arguments, and cautioned against excessive alcohol use.

“If there are activities that cause triggers of stress, it's OK to say ‘no.’ It’s difficult, but sometimes we need to do that and to set that boundary by saying you are unable to attend,” he said. “That's a sign of good health as you're putting your needs above others’ expectations.”

Mingus said it’s a good idea to prioritize your time and spread holiday responsibilities over several days, allowing for adequate sleep, exercise, and healthy nutrition. Also, don’t hesitate to reach out for help.

“It's always OK to turn to a trusted friend or family member or a professional if you're feeling overwhelmed, or if you have noticed a change in your mental health,” said Mingus.

Non-emergency crisis counseling and evaluations are available through UnityPoint Health-UnityPlace Emergency Response Services (ERS) and can be reached by calling 309-671-8084 in Peoria County, or 309-347-1149 in Tazewell and Woodford Counties. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255.

Emergency rooms

With the latest COVID-19 surge pushing Tri-County hospitals to near capacity, Peoria City/County Health Department Administrator Monica Hendrickson is telling people not to visit the emergency departments unless it's necessary.

“Patients that should be going to the ER are those that are experiencing significant symptoms related to their COVID-19 diagnosis,” said Hendrickson.

Hendrickson said the Greater Peoria OSF and UnityPoint hospitals have been “getting flooded” with people seeking COVID tests or monoclonal antibody treatments.

“Individuals that are wanting monoclonal antibody treatment need to be talking to their primary care provider,” she said. “This treatment is not available in our emergency departments, but is routine and is accessible to our community.

“In addition, patients who need a COVID-19 test for school or for work purposes need to go to a designated testing site. Again, our emergency departments are not primary locations for COVID testing.”

Hendrickson said the appropriate places for COVID testing are prompt care or ambulatory care clinics, retail pharmacies, or the testing site at the Peoria Civic Center.

Rental assistance

Some Peoria residents facing potential eviction have an opportunity to get assistance through a program administered by the Illinois Housing Development Authority.

Joe Dulin, the city's Director of Community Development, said the state had some money left over and reopened the assistance program it offered earlier this year.

“You have to have a financial hardship due to COVID. You have to be behind on rent, and then you'd be eligible for up to $25,000 in rental assistance through the state of Illinois,” said Dulin, who encouraged tenants facing eviction to talk to their landlords and put in a joint application. “It's a win-win for everyone involved in the process.”

Residents have until Jan. 9 to apply online at www.IllinoisHousingHelp.org. Dulin said tenants facing eviction can also contact Prairie State Legal Services for additional assistance.

Additionally, Dulin wants homeowners to know they can seek financial assistance if their furnace breaks down over the winter months.

“Unfortunately, some of our citizens of Peoria don't have that emergency fund, and when their furnace breaks or something like that, they need some additional funds,” said Dulin. “Because Peoria is an entitlement community through HUD (the Department of Housing and Urban Development), we have an emergency grant that is up to $5,000 for furnace replacement for owner-occupied properties in the city of Peoria.”

Anyone interested in seeking the grant can contact the city’s development center at 309-494-8600.

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