Given that Stephen Schottgen is a behavioral health provider, it’ll come as no surprise that “it’s been a lot busier” during the pandemic.
But there have been some shifts over time in his counseling work for people served by the Mobile County Health Department. “In the first part, there was a lot of anger, anxiety, frustration,” said Schottgen. “As time rolled by, I’m getting more depression, grief, loss. A lot more depression. People are able to stop and reflect, so it’s not always a positive thing for them.”
In other words, some of the effects of prolonged isolation have been sinking in. “When I say isolated, I’m talking panic room, doors locked up, not getting out at all, except as fast as humanly possible,” he said.
In a recent “Wellness Wednesday” video interview, Schottgen talked about the many sources of grief beyond the death or illness of loved ones: Loss of freedom, loss of financial security, losing the stability of a job, losing a sense of control.
“Grief and loss, it’s so cliched, but admitting that’s what you’re feeling is a step in the right direction,” he said. “If it’s something that you can’t shake off, then my advice would be to seek out somebody that’s professional. Especially if it’s occupying more time than not, if that’s what you’re thinking about all the time, where people are doing the woulda-coulda-shoulda’s, thinking about the past. It may be time to talk to somebody that’s not family, whether it’s clergy or whomever. The more that we sit there and ruminate, the deeper we go into our grief and loss, the harder it can become to shake off. It can become complicated grief.”
“The model for grief is, it goes in stages,” Schottgen said. “Well, with complicated grief we get hung up on one of those stages and we’re not able to move forward. It becomes a pervasive part of our lives.”
Even small steps forward can make a big difference, he said.
“If possible, get outside. Just get a little bit of sunlight,” he said. “You don’t have to get close to anybody. As long as people follow the guidelines, they can still walk out in their backyard or to the park. Just 10-15 minutes a day in sunlight does a whole bunch of good, physiologically and psychologically.”
This is part of a series of stories by AL.com to reflect on the 1-year mark of the COVID-19 pandemic reaching Alabama. Each day leading up to March 13 we will elevate the voices of those impacted.