COVID has had not only a physical impact on people, but also a mental impact, including in northwest Minnesota. Amber Deere, a Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner at Kittson Healthcare, said the pandemic has “greatly” impacted people’s mental health in this area.
While completing her Master’s degree, Deere was working at the Northwestern Mental Health Center in Crookston, Minn. Before the pandemic, she would drive to work, but when the pandemic hit, she began to work remotely, specifically out of her in-law’s basement in Hallock, for about a year. During that time, she noticed numerous mental health issues in the Crookston area, including much loneliness and depression.
“I was working with a lot of severely mentally ill people who just didn’t have a lot of social connections,” Deere said, “and so their appointments with their therapist or different groups that they were part of, that was all kind of taken away and everything was done virtually. So people really declined in how they were functioning and their psychiatric symptoms were definitely exacerbated.”
Deere spoke about these impacts of the pandemic on mental health, the factors behind them, how the issues have subsided, best practices for people to care for their mental health, and the area resources out there for them.
Deere brings various health care experiences to Kittson Healthcare. She worked as an registered nurse (RN) for about eight years, mostly at the Pembina County Memorial Hospital in Cavalier, N.D. She also worked as a nurse in Hallock in the hospital and emergency room departments.
During her time in the ER, she realized the need for mental health care in rural communities, so she applied for and was accepted into the University of North Dakota’s (UND) psychiatric nurse practitioner program. She completed this program to earn her Master’s degree in nursing, focused on psychiatry.
In terms of this pandemic, as Deere alluded to, it has negatively impacted the social connections that many severely mentally ill people had developed, moving them to a virtual format. As a result, she saw not only a decline in functioning and exacerbation in psychiatric symptoms, but also other issues.
She witnessed substance relapse, even among people who had been sober for years. The isolation led to relapsing. She also noticed an impact on youth mental health.
Working with individuals age six and up, she saw the pandemic’s impact on various people’s mental health.
“I definitely noticed all ages of kids, into teenagers, definitely struggling with the distance learning,” Deere said, “parents struggling to manage their children’s emotional issues, as well as their academics.”
She then soon realized that she needed more human connection at her job, so she transitioned to and was hired to work at Kittson Healthcare, starting on February 8, 2021. She mentioned how doing the face-to-face visits has been “amazing.” In terms of the pandemic’s impact on mental health, the prevailing theme she witnessed while working in Polk County remains the same as in Kittson County.
“People are continuing to struggle with the isolation. I think now that kids are back in school, you know, that’s definitely good, but I do still see them struggling with suicidality, — very concerning in that teenage population,” Deere said. “And it’s been very, very difficult for people and people were seeking psychiatric care who had never done so until the pandemic. And so it definitely, it was hard on people’s mental health.”
Specifically, this pandemic impacted the mental health of people who had not had a history of symptoms that would warrant an appointment. This includes people coming in and saying they’re depressed and how they’ve never dealt with this issue before.
“I believe (this was) brought on by all of the isolation and ramifications of the lockdown and of the pandemic,” Deere said.
Depression and anxiety, especially depression, have been the most prevalent mental health issues she has witnessed since the pandemic hit.
“People were sitting around more. They were in their home more,” Deere said. “They weren’t interacting with people outside of their… own household, if that; some people live alone. So then (they were) experiencing weight gain, low energy, difficulties with sleep, so all of those components of depression, for sure.”
Deere also witnessed extreme anxiousness in people during this time, including over issues related to finances, work, and getting sick.
As for how people can handle these issues, Deere pointed to a combination of therapy and medication. Deere’s primary focus has been prescribing psychiatric medications, but she also recently became certified in dialectical behavior therapy (DBT).
“I believe that therapy is where the magic happens for people and medications are very helpful and necessary in a lot of circumstances,” Deere said. “But I feel like people put too much I don’t know faith or like it seems a lot easier to take a pill to help, then to consistently engage in therapy that can be hard work.”
She also pointed to healthy lifestyle choices making a difference— exercise, moving one’s body and getting fresh air, eating a well-balanced, healthy diet, getting “adequate” rest, drinking enough water or other fluids, and taking vitamins.
“Vitamin D, specifically living up here we’re probably all deficient possibly,” Deere said. “A lot of people do have vitamin D deficiency, so I think supplementing with that is extremely important too.”
What mental health help is out there in Kittson County? As Deere noted, a great need for mental health services exists in the area and Kittson Healthcare is working to fill this need.
Deere is available at the clinic in Hallock on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and at the clinic in Karlstad on Tuesdays and Thursdays to provide psychiatric evaluations, prescribe psychiatric medications, and do therapy if people are interested. To schedule an appointment with Deere, call the Hallock clinic at 218-843-2165 or the Karlstad clinic at 218-436-2251.
Deere said she is not afraid to refer people. Besides her, people can get help from other resources.
Alluma, formerly know as Northwestern Mental Health is a organization out of Crookston that does serve Kittson County. At Alluma, they provide therapy, services for children, and in-home work with people who qualify—depending on their diagnoses— to help them with independent living skills and coping skills. One can learn more about Alluma at allumacares.org or by calling 218-281-3940— to discuss appointments.
“The problem right now is, I believe, as a result of the pandemic, there has been such a great need for mental health services, that it is difficult to get an appointment with somebody for individual therapy,” Deere said. “There’s a significant wait time and so sometimes that’s challenging for a person to be struggling in that way and not be able to get a quicker appointment.”
If an individual is in crisis— for example, feeling unsafe or having suicidal thinking— Alluma does have a 24/7 crisis line. Just call 1-800-282-5005.
Hallock resident and mental health professional Amelia Ganyo, MA, LPCC, works through Alluma, providing therapy services both in Karlstad and in Hallock. To schedule an appointment with her, one should contact Alluma.
Kittson County Social Services also has both adult and children mental health workers. Deere makes referrals to them, working closely with them to give support to individuals and families who are struggling.
To see the complete story, read the January 20 issue of the North Star News in print or online.