You’ve all seen those memes that joke about how bad this year has been, right?

Like the one that says, “If 2020 were a scented candle…” and then has a picture of a bunch of Porta-Potties on fire? Or: “If 2020 were a piñata…” Giant hornet’s nest. “If 2020 were a bag of chips…” Toothpaste and orange-flavored Lay’s.

You get the idea. They’re funny. And it’s good to get all the laughs you can in these downer days.

With much of the year consumed by a global pandemic that’s now stretching into its 10th month, 2020 has brought more than its fair share of stress. It’s also been marked by deep political division and uncertainties as well as racial unrest that’s led to protests and riots.

Everyone in the U.S. has felt the impacts. Even those who avoid the news and politics haven’t been able to escape the social distancing realities of day-to-day life during COVID-19: mask mandates, closed businesses, full hospitals, prohibited group gatherings. … It’s been a year of isolation, and that takes a toll on people.

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Brian Gatheridge, a licensed clinical psychologist with Sanford Health in Detroit Lakes, said there’s been “a significant uptick” in cases of depression, anxiety and other stress-related emotional and behavioral disorders in recent months, “as a result of the pandemic.”

“We’re starting to see it more now, the long-term effects of all this,” Gatheridge told the Tribune in late November. “We (mental health professionals in the region) are definitely busy… For folks who’ve historically struggled, this is exacerbating things. And for folks who’ve historically done well, this is a significant disruption.”

He pointed to a June 2020 survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as evidence of this on a nationwide scale. That survey, taken online by more than 5,400 respondents, revealed that 40% of adults in the U.S. had symptoms of mental health conditions and/or were using substances as a way to cope.

“The statistics were pretty startling,” Gatheridge said: 25% of respondents showed signs of anxiety (that’s three times the number reported in 2019), and 24% showed signs of depression (four times the number in 2019). It showed 13% had started or increased their substance use, and 10% had seriously considered suicide in the 30 days before completing the survey. Percentages were disproportionately higher among certain populations like young adults, essential workers, Hispanics, Blacks and others.

While the survey focused on adults, Gatheridge said these kinds of increases are being seen in kids and teenagers, too: “They’re not able to socialize the way they’re used to,” he said. “Their days lack structure, without school, and they’re not able to participate in activities they used to enjoy.”

Young or old, people's responses to stress vary depending on their background, social support system, financial situation, community and many other factors, Gatheridge said: “But no matter who we are, we’re not immune to the pandemic and the disruption it’s caused in our lives.”

The timely return of ‘Inside Out’

What better time than now, then, to bring back a community-wide initiative that explores mental illness and spreads the word about local resources?

“Inside Out: A Step Inside Mental Illness” first launched in early 2019 as a collaborative effort between Becker County area mental health care professionals and local media. It’s back again today with many of the original partners returning, and with the same goal as before -- to normalize mental illness so no one feels too ashamed to ask for help.

The project consists of a series of interview-style videos and newspaper articles that put real, local faces to some common (and some less common) mental health disorders. People from around the region, our own friends and neighbors, are profiled in the series, each of them sharing what life is like for them as a person with anxiety, depression, addiction or other mental health condition. There is also information and advice from local mental health care professionals, on every topic.

Last year, “Inside Out” was an eight-part series; this year, it’s a nine-parter, including this week’s topic of generalized anxiety during the pandemic. Other topics will include bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, farmer suicide, trauma, mental illness as it relates to domestic violence, and more.

One new topic will be rolled out each week throughout December and January: TV3 will launch a new video every Monday and then air it throughout the week, and the Tribune will publish one story every Wednesday of those same weeks, both in print and online (the online versions will often include extra information and resources).

After their initial launch, videos will be posted to the Becker County Energize website, where they can be viewed at any time by clicking on the “Inside Out” link in the “Resources” drop-down menu. Becker County Energize is an initiative backed by Essentia Health-St. Mary’s to improve county residents’ health and quality of life, and it’s a major partner in the “Inside Out” project.

Erika Gilsdorf, a producer at Leighton Broadcasting who spearheaded “Inside Out” last year and is now doing so again, said she wanted to bring it back because, “We had such a huge response last time. We received so many emails, hugs, phone calls and comments on what an impact it made. Significant, heartfelt comments -- about how it saved lives, even.”

Gilsdorf had one person tell her that they called the local crisis line to get help immediately after watching last year’s video about suicide. Another person, a father, said the newspaper article about attention deficit hyperactivity disorder made him “finally understand” his son with ADHD. A mother saw the video about post-traumatic stress disorder and recognized the symptoms in her son, and then helped him get help he needed for his PTSD.

The series made a difference in Gilsdorf’s own life, too, as she was the featured individual in the video and story about obsessive compulsive disorder, or OCD. At the time, she was a little nervous about talking about her disorder so publicly, she said, but since then, she’s enjoyed being more open about her experience.

“More people talk to me now about my OCD, so I feel like that stigma is slowly degrading,” she said. “People ask me, ‘How’s your mental health doing?’ It’s not this secret thing… That’s really nice, having mental health discussions in a positive, normal way instead of a hushed way.”

That’s a big part of what “Inside Out” is all about -- getting people comfortable enough with the topic of mental health to talk about it in the same way they talk about physical health; as something that’s a common reality for many people, and not something to be ashamed of.

Given the prevalence of mental disorders in this pandemic era -- and with the added stress of the holidays right now, too -- Gilsdorf said she’s, “thrilled to offer all this support for people during this time,” through this second round of “Inside Out.”

Because of COVID-19 restrictions on large gatherings, this year’s “Inside Out” project will not include a live panel event like it did last year. Instead, there will be a wrap-up video at the end of the series, in which mental health professionals will answer some commonly-asked questions. (File Photo)
Because of COVID-19 restrictions on large gatherings, this year’s “Inside Out” project will not include a live panel event like it did last year. Instead, there will be a wrap-up video at the end of the series, in which mental health professionals will answer some commonly-asked questions. (File Photo)
Because of COVID-19 restrictions on large gatherings, this year’s “Inside Out” project will not include a live panel event like it did last year. Instead, there will be a wrap-up video at the end of the series, in which several mental health professionals will each answer two commonly-asked questions about the topics in this year’s series.

Gilsdorf said more than half those topics were proposed by fans of last year’s series who, inspired by the people they saw in those videos, approached her with offers to talk about their own mental health experiences.

“People are coming out, and it’s challenging (because of the stigma that still surrounds mental illness)” Gilsdorf said. “But the more we talk about it, the more it builds compassion and empathy instead of judgement, and it builds support instead of isolation.”

Partners in this year’s “Inside Out” project include Leighton Broadcasting, Becker County Energize, the Detroit Lakes Tribune, White Earth Mental Health, Northwestern Mental Health, Sanford Health, Lakeland Mental Health, Stellher Human Services, Lakes Crisis & Resource Center and Integrity Counseling.



Get into “Inside Out”

The nine-part series kicks off this week and continues through January. Watch the videos on local station TV3, online on the lakestv3 YouTube channel, or at beckercountyenergize.com. Videos launch every Monday. Read the feature stories in the Tribune, in the Wednesday print editions every week of the series as well as online every Wednesday at dl-online.com.

The series schedule is as follows:

Generalized Anxiety During the Pandemic/Current World Stressors

TV3 video: Monday, Nov. 30 / Tribune story: Wednesday, Dec. 2

Anxiety/Trauma

TV3 video: Monday, Dec. 7 / Tribune story: Wednesday, Dec. 9

Farmer Depression and Suicide

TV3 video: Monday, Dec. 14 / Tribune story: Wednesday, Dec. 16

Bipolar Disorder

TV3 video: Monday, Dec. 21 / Tribune story: Wednesday, Dec. 23

Addiction/Recovery and Mental Illness

TV3 video: Monday, Dec. 28 / Tribune story: Wednesday, Dec. 30

Borderline Personality Disorder

TV3 video: Monday, Jan. 4 / Tribune story: Wednesday, Jan. 6

Mental Illness and the Judicial System

TV3 video: Monday, Jan. 11 / Tribune story: Wednesday, Jan. 13

Mental Illness as it Relates to Domestic Violence

TV3 video: Monday, Jan. 18 / Tribune story: Wednesday, Jan. 20

Mental Illness in the Elderly and Final Panel Wrap-up

TV3 videos: Monday, Jan. 25 / Tribune story: Wednesday, Jan. 27



Signs and symptoms of anxiety

When symptoms become bad enough that they’re hindering your day-to-day routines, that's when it's time to get help. (File Photo)
When symptoms become bad enough that they’re hindering your day-to-day routines, that's when it's time to get help. (File Photo)
Brian Gatheridge, a licensed clinical psychologist with Sanford Health in Detroit Lakes, said the following are some common signs of generalized anxiety to watch out for:

  • Loss of energy / changes in energy or activity levels

  • Sleep changes -- too little or too much

  • Loss of engagement / less interest in things you usually enjoy

  • Intense emotions (especially feelings of fear, anger, worry or sadness -- and they just won’t go away)

  • Increased headaches, stomachaches or other physical health problems

  • Worsening chronic health conditions

When these symptoms become bad enough that they’re hindering your day-to-day routines, Gatheridge said, it’s time to reach out for help.

“If your ‘worry thoughts’ are impacting your ability to manage your daily responsibilities -- whether it’s work or parenting -- or whenever you start to see that your anxiety or sadness is starting to affect your interactions and ability to complete daily tasks,” he said, “that’s a big sign that you probably need to get some assistance.”

Gatheridge said the three wisest words he’s ever heard are, “Never worry alone,” and that’s advice he always gives to his patients.

“It’s okay to not feel okay,” he said. “It’s normal to experience behavioral health concerns.”



If You Suspect Someone You Love Has Anxiety

Let them know that you’re there for them if they want to talk, and be willing to really listen. Take them seriously, and don’t minimize their feelings.

Brian Gatheridge, a licensed clinical psychologist with Sanford Health in Detroit Lakes, said it’s important to let people complete their thoughts as they're talking to you, and to let them know they’re not alone.

In this COVID-19 era, especially, when so many people are having symptoms of anxiety, it’s okay to talk about your own similar feelings or experiences -- but remember that everyone responds to stress differently, and show compassion, not judgment.

Also, come to the conversation prepared, if you can.

“It’s good to have an awareness of resources that might be available to people, that you can provide them with access to,” said Gatheridge. “A lot of times you want to fix things for people, but you can’t fix it, and that’s where you want to have some knowledge about resources.”

He suggests having loved ones check in with their primary care providers as a good first step in seeking help: “In rural communities, they’re often the gatekeepers,” he said.

Those providers can complete an evaluation and then determine the appropriate next line of care. There are a number of professional mental health providers in the Becker County area that can help.

Gatheridge added that for any urgent needs or situations, such as concerns of imminent harm, the nearest emergency room is the place to go. There’s also a local 24/7 crisis line: 218-850-4357.



Coping With COVID-19 Stress

  • Take care of your emotional health: Connect with others as much as you can (be creative about this -- use Facetime, or Zoom or similar apps, and call and text people often); Tell your trusted friends and family members how you’re feeling (build a strong support system for yourself); Remind yourself that strong feelings fade; Keep doing as many activities that you enjoy as you can.

  • Take care of your physical health: The physical impacts the mental, so eat healthy, well-balanced meals, exercise regularly, get enough sleep, and avoid alcohol, tobacco and other drugs. Also, make sure you’re taking regular breaks in your day to unwind.

  • Know what to do if you get sick and you’re concerned about COVID-19 (know where and how to get tested and treated). Be prepared and have a plan in place.

  • Stay informed about the virus, but be careful what media you expose yourself to (read news from official sources and be mindful of where you’re getting your facts). If you notice that media is a source of anxiety for you, especially social media, then take it in small doses or take a break for a while. It can be upsetting to see repeated messages about the pandemic.

-Tips from Brian Gatheridge, Sanford Health-Detroit Lakes licensed clinical psychologist

Local Mental Health Resources

  • Becker County and White Earth Reservation 24-Hour Mental Health Crisis Line: 218-850-4357

  • Minnesota Crisis Text Line: Text MN to #741741

  • Veterans Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255 (or text #838255)

  • Essentia Health-St. Mary’s Behavioral Health: 218-844-2347

  • Sanford Clinic Behavioral Health: 1-218-846-2000

  • Lakeland Mental Health Center: 218-847-1676

  • Stellher Counseling Services: 218-444-2845

  • The Village: 1-800-627-8220

  • White Earth Mental Health: 218-983-6325 or 218-983-4703

  • Willow Tree, mental health crisis stabilization services for adults: 218-844-1733

  • A Place to Belong, recreational and social events, peer support, meals, computer access, free laundry facilities and community service opportunities for adults with diagnosed mental illnesses: 218-739-0797

  • Lakes Crisis and Resource Center, mental health services for victims of domestic violence: 218-847-8572, or 218-847-7446 for the 24-hour Crisis Hotline

  • Bridgeway Behavioral Health Services, Fergus Falls: 218-736-8208

  • Prairie St. John’s, Fargo, N.D.: 701-476-7216

  • Red River Behavioral Health System, Grand Forks, N.D.: 701-772-2500

  • Northwestern Mental Health Center, Crookston: 1-800-282-5005