By ERIN ROLL
roll@montclairlocal.news

The Mental Health Association of Essex and Morris, which has its Essex offices in Montclair, has launched two new support groups to help people deal with the mental-health challenges of COVID-19 and the holidays.

One group offers general COVID-19 support and meets on Wednesdays from 2 to 3 p.m., while the other deals specifically with the holidays during the pandemic and meets on Mondays from 5 to 6 p.m. 

According to the federal Centers for Disease Control’s Household Pulse Survey, which is conducted weekly, between Oct. 28 and Nov. 6 some 36 percent of adults reported having symptoms of anxiety or an anxiety disorder. New cases are on the rise, and experts say being isolated during the holidays could lead to more depression. 

The Mental Health Association received funding for the new support groups in September from FEMA and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, said Genaya Palmer, the association’s team leader for the New Jersey Hope and Healing Crisis Counseling program. 

A typical meeting begins with a check-in. “We feel it’s important to say, ‘Hey, how are you doing?’” Palmer said.

In the general COVID-19 group, how to effectively parent during the pandemic is a big issue for group participants. Many of the group’s members are supervising their children’s online learning while trying to manage their own work responsibilities. 

Participants are also weighing how to celebrate the holidays without putting family members who may have health issues at risk. 

For some group members who live alone, the feeling of isolation and loneliness that many people feel during the holidays is magnified this year. 

Zoom fatigue is another common problem. Palmer said people are grateful for Zoom, in that it allows them to speak to family and friends and see their faces. But “it’s also the other side of it, where it feels like too much,” she said, adding that people crave physical interactions. 

The participants offer support to one another and offer coping tips such as reading a book, going for a walk or turning off the news. Palmer said it can be very reassuring to hear that others are going through the same problems.

The feedback has been generally positive. “I’ve heard a lot of appreciation when people say, ‘Thank you for doing this,’” she said.

To learn more about the support groups, visit the MHA’s website at mhaessexmorris.org or call 973-509-9777.