Experts say threat of 2nd shutdown heightens mental health issues

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- As COVID-19 cases continue to spread throughout the area, mental health experts say anxiety and mental stress are also on the rise.

"For the long haul, we were told that this is going to be something that we're going to have to deal with for a year to 18 months," said Renae Vania-Tomczak, president and CEO of Mental Health America Greater Houston. "If there's ever been a more real indication of that, it is what has happened in the last three to four weeks here in Texas."

The non-profit offers a free online mental health assessment on their website, and they say the results paint a picture of the stress brought on by the pandemic.

"Just between April and May, we saw a 623 percent increase in total moderate anxiety and a 285 percent increase in severe anxiety, and that was before the surge in cases, so we anticipate that it's going to continue," Vania-Tomczak said.

She anticipates reopening and shutting down again could heighten PTSD and feelings of uncertainty.

"What's the most prevalent, that we're saying right now really, is the uncertainty and the fear that people are experiencing more," Vania-Tomczak said. "Now they've had an opportunity where they can begin to engage more, and now we're being told it's time to take a step back."

She urges people to take advantage of free help for mental health, like their online assessment, which connects users to free resources.

Meanwhile, as the threat of another shutdown looms, Dr. Dietrich von Biedenfeld at the University of Houston Downtown urges people to only shop for what they need and avoid another supply chain shakeup.

"We recognize that people may want to do bulk shopping, not only for value, but also for public health and safety concerns," he said. "We live in a hurricane zone, so we have the basic understanding already where we should probably be keeping 14 to 16 days of non-perishable goods, water, paper towels, toilet paper and other consumer goods in our homes in the event of flooding or other home-bound activity."

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