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Mental health experts say they are seeing a surge in cases.

Mental health experts see rise in cases as pandemic, protests create anxiety

Shannon Boone is used to being mindful about her mental health. The 48-year-old goes to therapy once a week to deal with anxiety and depression.

But COVID-19 has created challenges she's never faced before.

Working from home was tough as was adjusting to a life of minimal face-to-face interactions, something she's cherished in her role as director of real estate development for the nonprofit Layton Boulevard West Neighbors. During online Zoom meetings with her co-workers, she cried.

"Most everyone else has the chance to process their thoughts with someone before they went to bed or had dinner," Boone said. "I was processing things with them because they were almost the only ones I talked to."

Boone is far from alone in her struggles. According to data from the Household Pulse Survey, 26.7 percent of those surveyed in Wisconsin reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder over the past seven days, compared to 30.6 percent for all Americans. The U.S. Census Bureau and the National Center for Health Statistics created the survey to track weekly changes in mental health, among other subjects.

When broken down by race, 32 percent of Hispanics and 33.8 percent of Blacks reported symptoms of anxiety or depression between May 28 and June 2, the week large-scale protests related to George Floyd's death broke out across the nation.

"We recognize that this is an important and emotional time," said Crystal Simpson, manager of the Behavioral Health Clinic at Outreach Community Health Centers, 210 W. Capitol Drive. "The stress of the pandemic, coupled with everything else, may have pushed people into behaviors that are not healthy."

"I just felt lost"

Creating artwork, dancing, cooking healthy meals and staying active on social media helped Madia "Cyn" Norton, 40, ride out the initial stages of the pandemic. But for Norton, who was diagnosed with depression in her 20s and has leaned on spirituality to stabilize her life in recent years, things suddenly changed.

"I remember the day that it shifted. I just felt lost," said Norton, who worked as a sexual health educator until being laid off during the pandemic. "I could barely move and couldn't eat for days."

Simmone Kilgore, a mental health specialist and trauma therapist who works with domestic violence victims through Aurora Health Care's Healing and Advocacy Services and as a consultant for the Milwaukee Health Department's Office of Violence Prevention, said many of her clients are struggling.

"When things change like that and we feel like we lose control, we tend to feel angry or anxious," Kilgore said. "You throw in job loss, fear of getting sick, isolation and the uncertainty of what will happen next and people are overwhelmed."

Both Kilgore and Simpson have treated patients during the pandemic via Zoom, although both have seen patients in-person as well. Simpson said she tries to help patients become aware their triggers are and create healthy plans to manage them.

"It's definitely something we can support through therapeutic sessions," said Simpson, whose clinic does not require insurance, charges on a sliding scale and provides benefits specialists to work with patients.

Kilgore said she encourages individuals to utilize meditation techniques related to mindfulness.

"It's really about being in the moment as much as you can and being thankful and grateful about where you are without overthinking the next day," Kilgore said.

Boone and Norton have been coping in different ways. Boone walks two miles daily with her neighbor, watches less TV and continues her therapy. As for Norton, the protests have had an empowering effect on her.

"It's never felt so good to be a black woman and to feel like you can express and have a voice," she said.

Norton said another thing that's helped is the realization that she's not going through this alone.

She offers this advice to others.

"Don't give up and utilize any resources that are put into their path, because you never know what is going to help you," she said.

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