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NAMI Greater Orlando Executive Director Eric Welch on the pandemic’s impact on mental health

NAMI Greater Orlando Executive Director Eric Welch. Photo: WMFE
NAMI Greater Orlando Executive Director Eric Welch. Photo: WMFE

The health impacts of the coronavirus go beyond the physical effects of the disease. The pandemic has also profoundly affected people’s mental health--from grief and loss to fear, disorientation and the trauma of social isolation. 

Eric Welch, the executive director of NAMI Greater Orlando, joins Intersection to discuss how the pandemic has impacted people’s mental health over the past year. 

Welch says he thinks young people are feeling the effects of the pandemic more than others. 

“Whether you're a senior in high school that's trying to figure out prom or you’re a middle schooler trying to figure out, you know, when are you going to be back to your normal schedule,” he says. “I think young people are going to be feeling these effects a little more.” 

Welch says in Central Florida, young people are seeking help more than ever. This reflects a nationwide trend--the CDC reported hospital emergency departments had an increase in visits from kids with mental health needs between April and October of last year. 

Welch says parents, friends and educators can help by talking about mental health and looking for warning signs such as outbursts of anger and changes in eating and sleeping habits. 

“We need to focus on mental health,” he says. “We need to put it at the forefront of everything that we do for young people, continue to talk about it, continue to remind them that there's help and hope, continue to get them in to see professionals if necessary.” 

Welch says although it’s difficult to predict, the pandemic is going to have long-term effects on young people’s mental health.

“Our national medical adviser said that there's going to be a mental health pandemic as well,” he says. “And the end of it will have a long tail.”

Welch encourages everyone to practice self care like eating right, exercising and doing what makes you happy. He says it’s important to take care of yourself before helping others.

“Put the oxygen mask on yourself before you put it on to somebody else,” Welch says. 

Welch says the silver lining of the past year has been that mental health has been brought to the forefront and there is a system to help people.

“We have the professionals that can help,” he says. “So the success story is, you know, we're still here, and we're still doing the best we can.” 

Welch says those who need help should call NAMI Greater Orlando at 407-253-1900 or visit their website at namigo.org.