Kodiak’s mental health treatment community offers advice for residents stuck at home

Health services across the country are moving to virtual, rather than in-person visits, as social distancing becomes even more crucial in slowing the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. In Kodiak, mental health services have also moved to virtual methods, like telephone and video conferencing.

Phil Jordinelli, an addiction and substance abuse counselor at Kodiak Area Native Association, said that 90 percent of KANA staff is working from home, but they’re still maintaining patient care while ensuring government-mandated privacy standards.

“We haven’t seen a reduction services,” he said. “We’re still maintaining our substance abuse groups. We’re doing them telephonically. We’re seeing our clients on video telemedicine. KANA’s already kind of set up for that because we were doing remote services in the villages for years. So we’re using the same platform.”

KANA also added a behavioral health help line, available to all members of the community, whether they are KANA patients or not. Jordinelli said anyone get help with mental health or substance issues by calling KANA’s main number, (907) 486-9800.

Heidi McNerney, a counselor at Kodiak Community Health Center, says that one of the biggest issues Kodiak residents are likely facing right now is feeling isolated.

“I think one of the remedies for that is for people to stay connected to family and friends. Doing that through the telephone, doing that through FaceTime or Skype,” she said, adding that there are some social behaviors to limit  as well. “I also think that trying to not engage in social media, and sort of limiting the amount of news that you’re watching is also very helpful because I think some of that just plays into the anxiety that people are already feeling because they’re cut off.”

Being stuck at home, juggling working from home and taking care of children and not being able to engage in normal social activities causes stress and anxiety, according to Kodiak’s mental health counselors. Jordinelli said an important part of reducing that stress is making sure you have a healthy routine.

“It’s important also, if you have kids at home, that you keep them on a routine and make sure that they go to bed on time and they eat regular meals and you guys have some activities afterwards and that you have some fun time,” he said.

Like McNerney, he said there are some harmful coping behaviors to avoid. “You also should avoid excessive alcohol use, or drug or tobacco use too. Some people will chain smoke or use other substances to try to help them cope with stress or anxiety. So we recommend against that.”

Stephen Flora, a counselor at Providence Kodiak Island Medical Center, said that another good way to reduce anxiety is to make sure your routine involves getting outside.

“I think movement is important and movement on a number of levels — blood flow, circulation,” he said. “When you walk, it’s a distraction. There’s a thousand things to see in Kodiak, probably a million. You see things you wouldn’t normally see. I always say to people walk a street that you normally drive, because you will see a whole lot more.”

Jordinelli, McNerney and Flora were guests on our daily coronavirus update show, The Lowdown, on Thursday morning. We’ll be doing a weekly check-in with mental health professionals to answer your questions. You can submit questions at (907) 486-3181 or email lowdown@kmxt.org.

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