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'Am I Okay?': An investigation into COVID-19 and mental illness

Am I Okay?
Posted at 6:00 AM, Jan 24, 2021

HAMPTON ROADS, Va. - Is COVID-19 impacting your mental health? Experts say there are more than 200 forms of mental illnesses, and the current conditions could make causing more people stress.

News 3 investigates how mental illness and COVID-19 are causing more people to ask themselves, “Am I okay?”

After graduating high school with honors, Marquita Leary said she was ready to take on the world but then seriously struggled as she was working full time and going to college.

“I became very depressed. I was like a hermit. I couldn't talk. I couldn't speak,” said Leary. “I had a nervous breakdown.”

She said she felt like she couldn’t move forward, felt worthless and was suffering.

“Suddenly, I lost everything. I was in a psych ward almost four days,” said Leary.

She said she was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, a mental illness that’s experts says a combination of schizophrenia and a mood disorder. She was not okay at the time, but she got help from doctors, supports groups and her family, especially her mom.

“That really helped me to see that I am someone special just like anybody else,” said Leary.

She said she has worked to control her disorder and loves the person who she is today.

“At first I was little distraught, but as I got older, I felt like, ‘Hey, this is me. This is who I am,” said Leary.

Nearly one in five U.S. adults live with a mental illness. In 2019, that number was about 51.5 million, according to federal officials.

“I think a lot of people are definitely asking themselves, 'Am I okay?'” said Dr. Sarah Williams, Covenant Way Clinical Counseling C.E.O. and licensed psychotherapist. “It's actually the new normal to not be okay.”

Dr. Williams said she’s seen an influx of people in need of help during the pandemic.

“If you have an overarching feeling of sadness throughout the day, you are lacking interest in motivation in things that you normally would have interest in; if your ability to take care of yourself, your household needs are suffering, that is an indication that you might need to seek help,” said Dr. Williams.

She says other indications that you many need help are if you can’t sleep, if there are noticeable changes to eating habits, if you have trouble handling emotions, if you have outbursts or if you have difficulties with personal relationships.

“I think most importantly is to do a self-check daily,” said Dr. Williams.

She said families should also have daily check-ups on each other daily.

Dr. Williams said to reach out if you need help during the pandemic.

“All the things and emotional toolbox have been disrupted, so we're having to readjust and we align our lives,” said Dr. Williams.

Leary said she wants more people to have a better understanding of mental illness.

“I just feel like people don't understand mental illness as much as they understand cancer, diabetes or anything like that. We're real people. We are honestly real people, and we have a voice,” said Leary. “This is just so real, and nobody wants to talk about it and they want to keep it on the hush-hush, and it's just not right. I really think that anybody with a mental illness can make it - anybody. [You] just have to believe in yourself.”

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