OSCEOLA COUNTY, Fla. — Some felt lonely; others got sick or lost jobs.

The COVID-19 pandemic's ripple effects have been varied and wide-reaching, including when it comes to mental health.

What You Need To Know

  • COVID pandemic affects mental health in many ways, studies show

  • Isolation, loss of routine has an impact

  • Depressive, anxiety disorders surge, NHIS and Census data indicates

  • Consumption of alcohol, substances climb, Kaiser Family Foundation study shows

“I think mental health-wise, it was really down for a while," Larry Lentz, Sr. said.

“We felt really isolated," Lentz's wife, Ruth, added.

The couple helps to care for their adult son, Larry Lentz, Jr., who had a stroke during a family trip to Pittsburgh in 2010.

The Osceola County planner, who was training to be a pilot, had collapsed in a bathroom after complaining of a persistent headache. After being rushed to the emergency room, doctors discovered Larry Jr. suffered a ruptured brain aneurism and gave him a 50-50 shot of making it through the night.

Seven weeks in the intensive care unit and months of rehab later, Larry Jr., then 39, said his first word, "No." He returned to Florida to live with his parents in Kissimmee, started therapy and made progress with the University of Central Florida's Aphasia House.

He eventually found a new home away from home, working in a cafe at the university, where his stroke did not hold him back.

But the pandemic paused operations at the cafe, and Larry Jr., who found a great sense of purpose working there, found himself spending more time at home with less to do.

His father worried if the time away would knock back his progress: “If he sits there for as long as this pandemic goes on, all the work that’s been done. What’s going to happen?" Larry Sr. said.

According to SMA Healthcare's Monique Evelyn, director of outpatient services, they noticed an increase in clients struggling with depression and anxiety amid the pandemic.

The health-care group has offices in several Central Florida counties, including Volusia and Flagler.

Data from the National Health Interview Survey and the Census Bureau found that in 2019, 11 percent of adults had symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder. In 2021, that number surged to 41 percent.

Meanwhile, a Kaiser Family Foundation poll found those feelings manifested in troubles sleeping or eating, or led to increased consumption of alcohol or substances.

Larry Jr. turned to rides in his recumbent bicycle and daily walks with his service dog, Bernie, to ease his mind. Weekly Zoom calls with his UCF clinicians — spent both practicing exercises and speech, or simply catching up — soothed his spirit.

“Larry is a very vibrant, social person," said Jennifer Tucker, a clinical assistant professor of physical therapy who works with Larry Jr. “Just that social interaction and that continued opportunity was really important."

SMA Healthcare's Evelyn said they encourage patients to stay connected with their support systems, such as family or friends, as much as possible in order to mitigate the mental health impact of the pandemic.

She also suggested revisiting old hobbies, or exploring new ones, like cooking classes.

Yet, the most important thing someone who is struggling can do, she explained, is to reach out. The phone number for SMA's 24-hour hotline is: 1-800-539-4228.

Larry Jr. is looking forward to UCF's cafe reopening again, as more students return to campus. 

“I think you learn to appreciate what you have more when something like this happens," Larry's mother said.