Mental health expert gives tips on fighting isolation during pandemic-hampered holidays

Posted at 6:17 PM, Nov 26, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-26 18:44:22-05

With the governors of Ohio and Kentucky urging residents not to gather in large groups, the pandemic has left many across the Tri-State and the country feeling stressed and alone.

Laura Stith heads up Child Focus, Inc. in Clermont County. She said calls to crisis hotlines have been busy this month as the holidays approach but do not bring with them what many consider longstanding and comforting traditions.

"The isolation this pandemic has created is huge," Stith told WCPO via Zoom.

She also said those who feel alone these days are not alone in that feeling.

"The reality is, during a pandemic, all of us are part of the vulnerable population," she said. "Things are just not as we wanted them to be during the holiday."

While feelings of isolation have been well documented as an effect throughout the pandemic, Stith said the holidays enhance these feelings. With the pandemic-induced gathering restrictions, even members of an immediate family might have to keep their distance, meaning some chairs will be left empty at this year's holiday dinner tables.

"I know some people that can't even have college-age kids come home, and that is so disappointing," she said. "We have loved ones that are in the hospital, or worse, we've had loved ones who have died as a result of the pandemic."

Technology will play a pivotal role in helping assuage these feelings, Stith said: Video conferencing apps like Zoom or FaceTime have skyrocketed in usage since COVID-19 arrived in the spring. For those who are less tech-savvy, an old-fashioned telephone call can do wonders, she said.

"I always engage my kids in helping my parents, so it can be really fun for a grandchild to help them with technology," Stith said.

But some tips for avoiding holiday blues remained the same, even during a pandemic. Stith said avoiding politics or other controversial topics could be more important now than ever. Setting up ground rules is important.

"Be proactive. Say, 'Today, this Zoom call, my home is a politics-free zone. Whatever the topic is, it might be a hot topic. You can declare it a free zone from that topic."

If you or someone you know is struggling with a mental health crisis, help is available. Call 1-800-273-8255 any time to reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The Crisis Text Line is available 24/7 at 741-741 for those who might be uncomfortable with a phone call.