Fear of a pandemic illness, forced isolation and a sudden spike in unemployment have hit the Dayton region the past two weeks — a community already rocked in recent years by an overdose crisis, tornadoes and a mass shooting.
All of that can take a significant mental health toll, especially on people who might have already experienced post-traumatic stress disorder, said Jeremiah Schumm, a Wright State University psychology professor.
“Some recent research shows that people who are quarantined during an infectious disease outbreak have higher rates of post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms than those who are exposed but not quarantined,” he said. “Having experienced prior trauma is a risk factor for elevations in post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms, as well as other symptoms like depression, when someone is exposed to another life-threatening event.”
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Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine has issued stay-at-home orders that have closed schools and all nonessential businesses in response to the coronavirus.
During this period of social distancing, others who are already dealing with mental illness and addiction could spiral while some might develop addictions, experts said, noting domestic violence and child abuse also could rise.
“There are some families where there may be conflict, or there may be abuse, and that’s certainly something where (being forced to stay at home) can become a psychological pressure cooker for people,” Schumm said.
Resources are available in the community to help, said Helen Jones-Kelley, executive director of the Alcohol, Drug, Addiction and Mental Health Services Board of Montgomery County and a Dayton Daily News Community Advisory Board member.
“We have to find ways to stay socially connected to one another and to provide the supports so that all of us — all of us as essential citizens of this community — are here when we get to the other side of this plague,” she said.
Memories of trauma
The 16 tornadoes that ravaged western Ohio on Memorial Day destroyed hundreds of homes and businesses, and caused two deaths. Then on Aug. 4 a gunman killed nine people in the Oregon District before police fatally shot him. At least 30 people were physically wounded.
Those tragedies left countless people with mental scars. Some were diagnosed with PTSD, Schumm said.
About 28% of people who witness mass shootings and other traumatic events develop PTSD, and about a third develop acute stress disorder, according to the National Center for PTSD at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Psychiatric disorders such as PTSD tend to affect disaster survivors immediately. But they can’t be diagnosed until at least a month after the event, although it tends to increase over time, said Dr. Carol North, a professor at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.
So it’s possible that people who might not have been diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder after the tornadoes or shootings could show symptoms now because the coronavirus might trigger memories of those traumatic events, Schumm said.
The pandemic might cause anxieties in those who are dealing with mental illness, addiction and other problems, particularly if they don’t have an outlet because they can’t leave home, he said. That’s because although the virus is a different type of threat, it’s potentially life threatening to the person, their community and their family.
“In many ways, the psychological impact the way people are perceiving this should be similar,” said Schumm, who has treated both tornado and Oregon District shooting victims. “The tornadoes and natural disasters are things that seem like there are these very huge events that (the victims) have absolutely no control over and it’s just happening widely to (the) community. Of course, the shooting is similar, although that was obviously much more targeted within the community.”
Some individuals can’t cope with the stress, and that could cause domestic violence and abuse against children to spike, Jones-Kelly said. Others might be depressed because they recently lost their jobs. That could cause them to become physically and mentally abusive or resort to self medication and potentially become addicts, she said.
She’s concerned about overdoses in Montgomery County during this crisis. Since the beginning of March, 31 people ranging from 24 to 62 years old have fatally overdosed, Jones-Kelly said.
Call 937-224-4646 for urgent, emotional support for people struggling with addiction and mental health issues. There also are coronavirus coping tips and a Get Help Now app on the agency’s website, mcadamhs.org.
Families can do many things together during this time to engage in healthy coping and strengthen their bonds, said Schumm and Jones-Kelley. Board games and other activities that allow families to sit around a table can be helpful, Jones-Kelly said. She also recommends that parents play word games with children to help them build their vocabulary while they are out of school.
Cooking together and making snacks for each other, and having the kids do chores also will be helpful for families while also teaching children responsibility, she said.
Other ways to engage in healthy coping during this time include having routines or rituals that promote positive communication about each other’s emotions, Schumm said. But the conversations don’t have to be only about positive experiences, as many people assume when communicating with friends and loved ones.
Research has found that if people are in an environment where they are respected and are allowed to be honest and open about their feelings, including vulnerabilities, Schumm said that can be a “powerful” bonding experience.
“This is a very stressful, difficult and traumatic time for people, so being able to have those opportunities to communicate,” can be helpful, he said. “The world is forcing us right now to (be home together), and there could be some positives that comes out of this rather than only stress.”
‘That took some fight out of me’
Dayton residents Dion Green and his girlfriend, Donita Cosey, were affected by both the Memorial Day tornadoes and the Oregon District Mass shooting. The tornadoes damaged their home. Months later his father, Derrick Fudge of Springfield, died in Green’s arms after being shot in the Oregon District. Both Green and Cosey said they were diagnosed with PTSD after both events.
Since the shooting, Green said he’s been heavily involved in the community, attending conferences, taking on speaking engagements and doing other things to memorialize his father and the other victims, and help survivors and himself heal. The gym was one of his favorite outlets. He also had been working with elected officials in recent months to plan a walk at the Levitt Pavilion honoring victims and survivors.
Green drew strength from doing all of those things, and they helped him cope, along with his weekly therapy sessions.
But he can’t do any of those things now, he said, and he hasn’t seen his therapist in about two weeks. So he’s felt more depressed of late, but said he’s been fighting to avoid falling into a deep state of depression. He often talks with other mass shootings survivors from around the country who reached out to him shortly after the Oregon District massacre, and they encourage each other. They’ve all been checking on each other the past week.
He also talks to family members and friends, and works on a book he’s been writing about his experiences. Green works out at home but said it’s just not the same as going to the gym.
“I feel like I was moving in the right direction and staying involved and seeing a greater vision this year, but I got depressed and that took some fight out of me,” he said. “But I’m getting it back.”
‘We are victors, not victims’
Wayne Johnson and his daughter Tosha Johnson’s Trotwood home sustained about $300,000 worth of damage from the Memorial Day tornadoes. The roof, including the truss, of their five-bedroom, quad-level home was blown off. The windows were blown out and the lower level flooded. The home is uninhabitable.
Wayne Johnson also is still mourning the losses of his wife of 41 years and his brother in the past few years. Just before the coronavirus lock down he got a knee replacement , but he needs another surgery that’s been put on hold.
Since the night of the tornadoes, the family, including Tosha Johnson’s 13-year-old daughter Asia Ricks, have been living in a two-bedroom cottage nearby. There’s not enough room, so their 4-year-old pit bull mix Mia has been living with friends.
Contractors have been repairing heir home, which was supposed to be ready by the fall. But the work has slowed because of the pandemic.
Although it’s tough at times to deal with everything, the Johnsons said they rely on their resiliency and strong faith.
“Knowing that we’re confined in this particular space and still able to have somewhat of a normal life, we don’t have a lot to complain about,” said Tosha Johnson, an assistant athletic director at Trotwood-Madison High School. “So I think we’re definitely blessed about that, and we keep that in mind every day.”
The Johnsons said they are already a close-knit family, but they are using the time on lock down to strengthen their bond even more. They play board games, watch movies and have conversations, said Tosha Johnson, adding that they are discovering new things about each other.
Wayne Johnson’s mantra, which he tells anyone who feels sorry for his family, is that, “We are victors, not victims.”
“We still speak hope and life,” he said. “I’m just too blessed to complain about what I don’t have because I still have more than I deserve.”
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