Dealing with isolation during COVID-19
March 11, 2021
SEELEY LAKE - As the anniversary of COVID-19 coming into the U.S. passes, the majority of its citizens have experienced an unprecedented period of social isolation. The threat of the virus makes it difficult for certain institutions to be fully functional and for individuals to socialize how they normally would.
Local Therapist Kim Heninger LCPC, LAC, LLC said there is an “insidious depression” that sets in over time as a result of extended isolation. This can result in a “void” that needs constant fulfillment.
“I don’t want to make a generalization, but [a lot of the time we see this void being filled] with eating, excessive drinking, excessive gambling, excessive cleaning, excessive organizing, over the top binging TV,” she said. “So the void’s constantly trying to be filled, not always with healthy, creative ways, especially not initially. People grab for what’s easiest to fill in.”
Heninger is a licensed clinical professional counselor as well as a licensed addiction counselor who owns a private practice in Seeley Lake. She said that isolation creates an additional layer of difficulty because it makes it harder for individuals to normalize their experiences by sharing them directly with loved ones.
“There’s no way to normalize, … and normalization offers a sense of peace,” she said. “When you don’t have that normalization, and you’re in this isolated feeling of loneliness already in your head, that self-doubt can creep up. … Our left brain wants to continually protect us so it will even manifest non-truths, which with normalization, we can talk back and say, ‘Oh, this is happening for everyone.’”
Another concern she had regarding isolation is that those suffering from an addiction had begun to lose their support system. Fortunately, she believes many of these individuals have gotten creative through virtual meetings and increased resocialization as time has passed.
Heninger said according to neurological research, one way to mitigate excessive behaviors is to find something else to put in its place including physical activities like exercise. As the lockdown continued she saw aspects like time management and daily structure becoming more important when it came to monitoring one’s mental health.
Heninger recommends that individuals keep in touch with elderly loved ones to keep them from withdrawing.
She understands that with sweeping societal changes it can be overwhelming for some to observe these shifts and not comprehend how to move forward. She still recommends maintaining a positive attitude by focusing on the positive progress society has made.
“One way to move the lens around mentally is to look at, ‘Hey, what is working right now?’” she said. “So the new normal is let’s look at what’s working, what’s been improved and how we can be a part of that. And it might be someone that can’t get out but might be able to participate in [searching] on the internet what best serves them for lifting their spirits. Let’s say they are at home and they can [say], ‘Okay, I’m not going to get in my head and focus on that news, I’m going to switch over and watch the animal channel.’”
Heninger said the Seeley Lake community is fortunate to have its gym remain open even with restrictions in place. She recommends that residents take advantage of whatever is open and what is being locally offered to socialize even if it’s through a virtual format.
Linda Howard is the Seeley-Swan Resource Specialist at Missoula Aging Services (MAS). She said the organization offers a plethora of virtual events and classes the majority of which are no-cost.
MAS continues to offer meals for homebound older adults five days a week through Seeley Lake Senior Center in their Meals on Wheels program. According to Howard, the program has doubled their clientele since last year.
Lifelong Connections is a program that provides low-income seniors with tablets, two years of Wi-Fi and training at no cost. This is to help them obtain access to telehealth, reduce social isolation, continue volunteering and to take advantage of online necessities like grocery shopping.
The I Ride shuttle service provides transportation for medical appointments in Seeley Lake and Missoula, Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. - 2 p.m. Rides are by appointment only and need to be scheduled 48 hours in advance for local trips and one week in advance for Missoula trips. New riders must fill out paperwork prior to riding.
The cost is $1 for each one-way trip in Seeley Lake and $5 for one-way trips to Missoula. To schedule a medical ride, call (406) 916-7860 between Wednesdays and Fridays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. A wheelchair accessible ramp van is available upon request.
Another program Howard recommends is MAS’ Telecare Program which matches elderly clients with volunteers for friendly assurance calls. These volunteers provide check-in phone calls for older adults who are homebound and are isolated.
MAS also offers a variety of monthly virtual classes including diabetes prevention, a caregiver support group, a kinship navigator caregiver support group, a social security workshop and a chronic disease self-management program. Howard said there is always a no-cost option for all of these programs.
The full list of classes can be found on https://missoulaagingservices.org/news-events/calendar-and-classes.html.
Outside of MAS, Howard recommends looking into a new crisis recovery hotline announced by former Governor Steve Bullock at the end of 2020 called the Montana Crisis Recovery hotline. Residents in need of crisis counseling can call (877) 503-0833 to receive free and confidential counseling services from trained crisis counselors Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. - 10 p.m.
Howard is very optimistic that elderly residents will be able to regain a positive attitude once vaccinations become more available and restrictions can be eased.
“People really miss getting together for the congregate meals at the Senior Center,” she said. “My hope is as soon as people get vaccinated, and of course the state government authorizes more interaction, I think things will get back to normal.”
For more information about local resources contact Heninger, 406-370-8877 or Howard, 406-541-7688. Those experiencing suicidal thoughts should call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255 or visit https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
**Editor's Note: This story was updated March 14 to attribute neurological research as the basis for Kim Heninger's claims surrounding replacing excessive behaviors with other physical activities.