The following is an open letter to the community from Dr. Dennis P. Hopkins, executive director of the Iroquois Mental Health Center serving Watseka, Kankakee and Manteno.

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These are confusing, stressful times for all of us. As the coronavirus pandemic affects all facets of our society, it also affects each person in different ways. We are all feeling uncertain about what could happen in the coming weeks, as we hope to slow the spread of this pandemic. Feelings of anxiety and uncertainty are completely normal during times like this.

While we are all concerned about the future, for those with anxiety disorders, worry might be all-consuming. For those with schizophrenia, the concern of infections could contribute to paranoia. And for those with depression, lack of social engagement and disruptions in routines could increase symptoms.

This piece of advice is really important for all of us. It is important to realize social distancing does not have to mean social isolation, especially with modern technologies available to many of us. Connecting with our friends and loved ones, whether by high-tech means or through simple phone calls, can help us maintain ties during stressful days ahead and will give us strength to weather this difficult passage.

People throughout the world are finding themselves in a situation that is unpredictable, seemingly uncontrollable and with an indeterminate ending. They might react to fear by becoming angry. Remember the underlying emotion of anger is fear. Emotions are contagious. So, people everywhere feel stress, anxiety and fear. In the U.S., people have gone through the Great Depression, wars, hurricanes and tornadoes and terror attacks. People are resilient. The solution the government is offering attempts to correct a health care pandemic but creates a financial pandemic. Note it takes the markets in the U.S. an average of 24 months to recover.

The reaction to fear is a fight-or-flight response. People need reassurance of other people but instead are forced into isolation. Panic behavior results in compulsive buying (i.e. toilet paper). What is happening is every aspect of human life is affected by the pandemic(s). People have been voluntarily engaging in social isolation for years by using their phones. Go to any coffee house and see two or three people sitting at a table looking at their phones and ignoring the people next to them. The difference is now people are being ordered by their government to isolate, making the desire to socialize greater. And we always want to do what we are told we can’t do. What we do to relax is to watch sports, shop and go to theaters and restaurants, for example. These activities no longer are available.

For those who might experience paranoid feelings — such as COVID-19 pandemic has been unleashed by the government or other entity as a means to control people’s lives, or you believe the whole thing is a hoax, or you simply might feel overwhelmed beyond your ability to cope — I would urge you to call us immediately. As an essential service, our agency remains open and we have very dedicated and highly trained therapists at many convenient locations who can help you through this uncertain time — either in person or over the phone.

Finally, this is not the end of the world. It just feels that way. At some point in the not-too-distant future, the U.S. and the world will be working again. When that happens, will we all appreciate what we might have taken for granted before the pandemic? We all will come back stronger than ever. It’s not the end of the world. Mother Nature just hit the reset button.

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