COLUMBIA, S.C. — May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and the Veterans Affairs Office in Columbia wants to remind veterans of resources that are available in their time of need, even during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Although in-person sessions have come to a halt, VA workers are now providing virtual one-on-one sessions and group teleconferences. "People across the board are recognizing mental health awareness is important for everyone," says, Michelle Andra, a local recovery coordinator who explains how veterans are coping through this time.
"We’ve seen an increase family tension, increase of boredom and isolation," says Andra. "So, it’s really about being aware that maybe that isolation is continuing to keep someone stuck in that pattern and continuing to work to get out of that." But there hasn't all been bad news.
The VA says they’ve seen a 70% percent increase in attendance for group sessions since they’ve started offering virtual sessions.
With the pandemic forcing many into isolation, it has exacerbated previous conditions for some. Suicide Prevention Coordinator Peter Warren provides best practices for staying mentally healthy -- not just for veterans, but for everyone.
"One of the best things you can do is to maintain a good schedule, getting up at the same time, going to bed at the same time, watching your diet and eating and making an effort to eat as well as you can," says Warren. "Increasing your physical exercise, even just going outside and taking a walk around the block or sitting on your front porch, but above all else, staying connected. We are all human creatures and we need to be connected."
Any veteran experiencing a mental health crisis or needing to speak to someone confidentially should call the Columbia VA at 803-776-4000 or the Veterans Crisis Line at 800-273-8255 and press 1.