Those who are feeling anxiety, anger, depression or hopelessness stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic may actually be experiencing stages of grief that can be improved through counseling or self-help techniques, local experts say.

“It really is OK not to be OK right now,” counselor Angie Richard, clinical director for Croyle-Nielsen Therapeutic Associates of Johnstown and Somerset, said Tuesday during an online forum.

“This collective grief that we are all going through on all different levels needs to be experienced. The best way for us to move through grief, honestly, is to let it come and to gain some insight from it.”

Richard and Dr. Mary Berge, a licensed clinical psychologist, shared advice Tuesday during “COVID Questions: Mental Health,” part of a series of virtual town halls co-sponsored by In This Together Cambria, The Tribune-Democrat and the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown.

In This Together Cambria is a volunteer group engaged in advocacy, storytelling and sharing of information in order to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

Both counselors said they are seeing an increase in anxiety, depression, stress and other mental health issues related to the pandemic and extended mitigation measures.

“It is really a mixed bag, depending on whether you have resources, your connections and the multitude of your grief and losses,” Berge said. “It’s different for everybody.”

Coping with stress begins with self-care, Richard said.

“We are so good at trying to care for others,” she said. “I can’t emphasize enough the importance of caring for yourself.”

Richard recommends people use what psychologists call the RAIN method when reacting to strong emotions. The acronym means recognizing the strong feelings, allowing those feelings to exist, investigating where the feelings came from and being neutral in accepting the feelings without self-judgment.

Berge urged those who joined the forum to set goals, even writing down daily goals and long-term goals to improve themselves in spite of the pandemic.

“Yes, we are all tired of this, but there are some things you can do,” Berge said. “Life is not on pause. It’s just very different right now. Think of these next several months as an opportunity. Think about, ‘How at the end of this pandemic do I want to be different? What can I control during these next few months?’ ”

Both the experts encouraged those feeling overwhelmed to reach out for help. Local mental health experts have all introduced telehealth options to continue counseling while maintaining social distance.

“You don’t have to be in crisis either,” Berge said. “Even if you just want someone to talk to or just want to feel supported or just vent.”

The mental health discussion will continue at 7 p.m. Feb. 16 in the next COVID Questions town hall, where the subject will be mental health issues with children.

The forums can be seen on Zoom and are livestreamed on the In This Together Cambria Facebook page.

Randy Griffith is a multimedia reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at 532-5057. Follow him on Twitter @PhotoGriffer57.

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