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Mental health experts urge Kentuckians to check in with themselves as impacts from pandemic continue

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. The National Alliance on Mental Illness, or ‘NAMI,’...
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. The National Alliance on Mental Illness, or ‘NAMI,’ dedicates this month to fighting stigma and educating the public.(National Alliance on Mental Illness)
Updated: May. 11, 2021 at 5:08 PM EDT
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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - May is Mental Health Awareness Month. The National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI, dedicates this month to fighting stigma and educating the public. Experts said the increases in mental health issues from last year to now not only need to be addressed, but also worked through.

Kelly Gunning, the director of advocacy for the Lexington Chapter of NAMI, said mental illness and addiction thrive in isolation.

“When you’re not well, you tend to isolate,” Gunning said.

She and psychiatrist Dr. Ila Patel have seen more people, of all ages, struggle this past year.

“Not only fear, insomnia, anxiety, depression, panic attacks, but people who lost loved ones, people who lost jobs,” Dr. Patel said.

What about those diagnosed with mental illness before the pandemic hit?

“Worse,” Dr. Patel said. “Anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts have gone up.”

Gunning said the numbers can’t be ignored.

“A 42% increase in overdoses in Lexington in 2020,” Gunning said.

They want to make sure people don’t wait, because the time is always now to get help.

“Get that check up from the neck up,” Gunning said.

Even as the country reopens and children head back to school, Dr. Patel and Gunning said mental health issues brought on by the pandemic won’t necessarily go away.

“Like any trauma, we went through a full pandemic, the world wars, and all this, so people have post-traumatic stress disorder. A very similar situation is happening,” Dr. Patel said.

Gunning said we should give ourselves some time to readjust.

“We have to start recognizing that the brain is probably our most vital organ, and needs to be treated whether it’s sick or well. We have to handle our brains with care. We have to pay attention,” Gunning said.

As we head out of the pandemic, we need to keep our mind, body, and spirit connected.

Gunning said she expects in-person mental health visits to return around August or September. She said it depends on vaccination rates, as well as guidance from the CDC and the state.

NAMI Lexington offers free support groups connecting people with resources specific to their individual situation. To find more information, you can follow this link.

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