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As Virginia reopens, psychiatrist says mental health struggles will continue

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Posted at 11:28 PM, May 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-20 23:28:33-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- Less than a week after Governor Northam announced restrictions would be lifted early and the mask mandate lifted, a Richmond psychiatrist believed mental health struggles would continue.

"Change is difficult. Even when it's a change to something better," said Psychiatrist, Dr. Walter Stanley Jennings, of Tucker Psychiatric.

Dr. Jennings said even positive changes like businesses reopening, mask mandates lifting and lockdowns ending could take a toll on people's mental health.

"Even though it doesn't make any sense. I'm telling you, that's the way it goes," Dr. Jennings said.

He said there could be multiple factors at play, like survivors' guilt for some, or unresolved grief.

"A lot of people have lost loved ones, and that lingers," Dr. Jennings said.

He said temporary sadness was normal and added that getting out and doing things could improve mental health.

"If it doesn't go away, in a reasonable period of time, it's not normal," said Dr. Jennings. "That's important to say and to understand because I know that there are ways to fix it."

Dr. Jennings said people experiencing long-term sadness, should seek help.

From August 2020 to February of 2021, a CDC survey found the percentage of adults reporting recent symptoms of anxiety and depression increased from 36.4% to 41.5%. Increases were largest among young adults ages 18 to 29.

Joseph Williams knows what it's like to live with a debilitating mental health disorder.

"I hate to say this, but it's just, it's a sickness that you don't just get over," said Williams. "It's a process and you can relapse at any time."

The Chester husband and father of two was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder in 2008 and was getting medication and treatment at Tucker Psychiatric ever since to manage his symptoms.

"About six months prior to being put in the hospital, I don't remember," said Williams. "I missed work. When I went to work, I would sit around, and they said I would cry."

Williams said treatments he later received at Tucker Psychiatric like Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation along with medication, have been effective in treating his depression.

He said staying busy was also helpful.

"Getting out, working the yard, or going somewhere, or going home see my family -- that’s what helps me the most is just staying busy," Williams said.

But Williams said his symptoms took a turn for the worse when COVID-19 began spreading across the globe.

"That's all you heard every day you come on TV, was people dying from this COVID. And you're worried that you may get it yourself," said Williams. "And then that worrying, coupled with my depression already. Yeah, it brought me down."

Williams said he had to increase his treatments with Tucker Psychiatric to once a week to manage his symptoms. But added that he was doing better now that COVID cases were down, and businesses were reopening.

"My depression is better now. I don't think about it as much."

But Williams firmly believed he would not be in the place he was today had he not reached out for help. He encouraged others going through something similar, to do the same.

"Don't wait to seek help. Don't be ashamed of your disease or sickness. Get out there. Talk to somebody, find somebody, find a doctor that understands it, and can help you," Williams said.