Not everyone is looking forward to the world opening back up
Talk about the world reopening has some people excited about the potential to gather in social settings again, but not everyone is feeling this way.
Kerry Graves, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) Baltimore, said they have seen an increase in their numbers recently because for those living with anxiety disorders, the world reopening has opened up another wave of mental health symptoms.
She said prior to the pandemic, individuals with an anxiety disorder had a hard time in their everyday lives socializing at work and being a part of a community. The pandemic has been a relief because they have been able to manage their symptoms and establish a routine at home, which is important for those living with a mental health condition.
Anxiety is now heightening as the routine they have developed for over a year will likely change as more people get the vaccine, companies allow workers to return to the office and in person operations resume.
According to the Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as of May 10 over 30 percent of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated and almost 50 percent has received at least one dose of the COVID vaccine. Maryland is in the top 20 states in the U.S. that has administered the most doses with over 5 million people having received one or both doses of the vaccine.
NAMI Baltimore is a peer to peer organization that provides education, support, and advocacy to the community through peer to peer classes, support groups and webinars for those living with mental illness and their loved ones in Baltimore City and Baltimore County.
“The unique part of NAMI is that it is not led by the staff, it is led by our volunteers in the community,” said Graves. It is a non-clinical organization that focuses on peer support rather than staff members taking the lead. “The difference is we’re offering that peer support. We want you to find individuals who have been there themselves and are living well in recovery and that’s just such a big part of mental health.”
People also reached out to NAMI Baltimore who had had a mental health condition prior to the pandemic, but were managing it well until the pandemic exacerbated those symptoms and they found they needed support again. They also had an influx of people who for the first time experienced symptoms of a mental illness.
The pandemic was an obstacle for NAMI Baltimore whose national model is to provide face-to-face programming, therefore before the pandemic they offered none of their services virtually. They learned during the pandemic that they need to have both in-person and virtual programs.
Graves shared that virtually, the barrier of having to travel is broken down and anyone who was uncertain of going to a support group has found it easier to meet virtually from the comfort of their home.
However, there have been downsides to it moving all programming to virtual. Graves said she has noticed participants used to set up meetings outside of the support groups with each other and the facilitators were able to continue to provide support after the group ended if they connected with a particular participant.
“It's a different relationship building than sitting on camera or sitting on the phone. So our participants in those groups, really because they’re sitting in a room together, build rapport with each other,” Graves said. “I think the validity to having those in person programs is still there.”
NAMI Baltimore looks forward to sustaining both in person and virtual programming in the future.