BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — One of the biggest things the pandemic has impacted comes in the form of our mental health. Students not being in class, businesses closing, lifestyles changing all caused some mental health concerns.

“Depression, anxiety, stress, worry everything exacerbating on top of the situation we’ve had to go through the last 12 months,” said Stacy Kuwahara, Behavioral Health Director at Kern Behavioral Health and Recovery Services.

Mental health has been put to the test for lots of people in the past year. For example, KBHRS saw 800 more calls come into their mental health crisis hotline in December 2020 compared to December 2019.

“I think initially we kept waiting for things to come back to normal and it took a while for us to realize this is going to be our new normal,” Kuwahara said.

Kuwahara says people who had never before dealt with anxiety or depression were thrown into stressful situations. She says those already facing mental health issues, especially younger people, found it even harder to cope.

“The one thing that I notice about kids is they are just very intuitive and always in tune to what is happening to them and their environment, so family stress is 100% going to be affecting them,” she said.

According to Program Support Supervisor Ellen Eggert, Kern County did not see an increase in suicides during the pandemic, but she says suicidologists believe there may be an increase at the end of this year.

“People who never had thoughts, more are having thoughts. And we see that with our youth because they’re not with each other,” Eggert said. “We see it with adults too. The biggest thing is most people think it can’t happen to them or their family. So we need to become more suicide aware.”

Especially for kids, Eggert says most parents talk to their kids about drugs and alcohol, but not suicide. She says that needs to change, especially with the end to the pandemic not quite in-sight.

“You know, because we’re talking life or death here,” she said. “But we all have to get comfortable with it.”

Kern Behavioral Health offers a free, one-hour suicide awareness training. Eggert encourages everyone to take it.

“It just talks about warning signs, how to ask the question. All of those things that, if we could erase that stigma and realize that suicide prevention is everybody’s business, but also every single one of us at some time in our life could be a risk for suicide,” she said.

Even as we’re beginning to see more vaccinations and fewer restrictions, Eggert says we need to be taking care of ourselves.

“The good thing is, there’s light at the end of the tunnel. But that tunnel’s long,” she said.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with mental health, contact the Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-8255.



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