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MCT File Photo / A patient listens to a therapist during a session several years ago in Sacramento, California. The COVID-19 virus, and its associated stresses, have compounded the need for people to talk to someone about their problems.

If you feel like the walls are closing in as a result of prolonged orders to stay at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, you aren't the only one.

It's happening to the most virulently cautious people who vow to "follow the science."

It's happening to the most rabid haters of President of Trump who see the pandemic as the ideal way to heap blame on him.

It's happening to those who have come and gone as they pleased throughout the pandemic even as they had limited places to go.

It's happening to the most loyal Trump supporters, who see through blue-state and coordinated media-driven appeals for people to stay home because otherwise "millions will die."

It's happening to young and old, men and women, black and white and every other demographic group you could graph.

It's causing real emotional hurt in the country, regardless of how much you approve or disapprove of the shelter-at-home strategy. So put that aside for a moment.

We know for sure that domestic violence has been up. Police confirm that. Experts warn that depression, substance abuse post-traumatic stress and suicide are also likely to be up, once they're measured over time.

Nearly half of Americans say the virus is affecting their mental health, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll. Online therapy company Talkspace reported a 65% increase in clients since mid-February, The Washington Post reports. And a federal emergency hotline for people in emotional distress saw a more than 1,000% increase in April over the same month in 2019.

We could launch into a disquisition on what is and is not being done on the mental health front in the country — more than before, but not enough — but that's a discussion for another day. What's important is what can be done now, while we're in the midst of the crisis.

The Times Free Press published an article Friday that a Unum report based on surveys of 1,210 working U.S. adults said 46% claimed their employer doesn't offer an employee assistance program related to mental health. But 93% of human resources professionals in 2019 said their companies do offer such services.

That's quite a disconnect but one that might be rectified either by human resources professionals reminding employees of those services — and imploring employees to use them — or employees asking human resources if those services are offered.

Yes, even in the 21st century, asking for mental health assistance is more than some people are comfortable with. But those uncomfortable people could start by asking friends or family members if they've ever reached out for somebody to talk to. They might be surprised to learn how many have, how many see a professional on an as-needed basis and how many have been prescribed something at some time that helped them deal with anxiety.

A pill is not an answer to everyone's stress problem, nor should it be, but it is — to use the worn cliche — another tool in the toolbox.

Today's problems are not your father's or your grandfather's problems. They never dealt with a pandemic in the United States about which they are confronted on the job, in their home and through various electronic means that feed us one science-based prediction one day and a different one the next.

On top of the pandemic — the potential for illness and death — is the potential loss of employment or the life savings they've put into a small business, the children at home and in need of educational assistance, the inability to visit friends and family members, and the inescapable blaming chatter of the media.

If one works from home, but is not used to being at home, and has all of the above pressures to boot, the walls indeed may seem as if they are closing in. In Chattanooga in particular, tornadoes and the coldest spring since 2004 have compounded the problems.

What's important for everyone is to seek an outlet. It may be a professional through an employee assistance program or a university counseling center — perhaps even remotely — but it doesn't have to be. It might a clergyperson, a trusted friend, a close sibling or a spouse.

Just talking about what you're going through, and perhaps hearing the other person is experiencing the same thing, often alleviates stress. Hearing that what you're going through won't last forever can be a salve. Knowing that someone else — perhaps even a higher power — is sharing your burden may bring relief.

We're not meant to attempt to make the world around us OK while we seethe and boil and panic within.

Before those feelings manifest themselves in a way we, or those around us, will regret, we should seek lifelines of help that are only a phone call or even feet away. We'll be glad we did.

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