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The unintended consequences of staying safe

[Editor’s note: Although this was inspired from a Batesville event, we felt the topic is timely and of interest to our readers in Cleburne County as well.]

From January 2018 to May 2019, 447 people had been the White River Medical Center’s emergency room related to suicidal ideations or suicide attempts.

The youngest was nine years old, the oldest was 91. Keep in mind those statistics are before the pandemic.

Social distancing may be having fatal outcomes for residents of Independence County struggling with anxiety, depression, stress, or addiction. The additional stress and the isolation of the pandemic are a perfect storm for developing anxiety, depression, and addiction, as well as, piling on more layers of stress for people who were already struggling.

Maggie Beshears, is a Licensed Associate Counselor (LAC) at the Stepping Stone unit located inside White River Medical Center. She spoke to the Batesville Rotary Club during a Zoom online meeting Monday.

People recognize the signs of stress when they see it: A loved one become irritable and impatient. There’s often a drop in grades at school or poor performance at work. Signs of anxiety can include chest pain and shortness of breath, which, ironically enough, are some of the symptoms of COVID-19.

In addition to checking in on loved ones to see where they are at mentally and emotionally, Beshears recommended letting people know when you are struggling with feelings of stress or being overwhelmed.

“Depression is more than just sadness,” Beshears explained.

The symptoms of depression might seem easy to brush-off in the winter. There’s loss of interest in doing things, weight loss or weight gain, insomnia or excessive sleeping. But then there is the inability to concentrate, excessive feelings of guilt, and worthlessness.

Take for example one of the statistics Beshears shared in her slideshow presentation: Suicide rates among men are highest among those 75 and older.

Why might that be?

When someone retires, or loses a spouse or family member, they might feel a lack of purpose. Likewise, if someone’s sole social outlet is church, or chatting with neighbors at a local restaurant, attending local school events: When those things go away, like during the pandemic, it can have an unintentional ripple effect on their well-being.

The build-up of either anxiety and depression can be like sinus congestion, it builds and builds until suddenly you can’t breathe, Beshears explained. The more of it a person can get it out, the better.

“You don’t have to be a clinician to listen,” Beshears said.

Beshears also spoke about some of the myths of suicide, such as talking openly about it might give someone the idea to do it, or that suicide only affects people who have a mental health condition. There’s another myth that most suicides happen without warning, but she said the signs are there, even if they aren’t obvious.

Mental health and substance abuse often go together, but not always.

Beshears told the group that nine out of ten people who are substance abusers say it is their way of self-medicating: A way to cope with stress just to make it through the day.

Dr. Joe Thompson with the Arkansas Center for Health Initiatives said it’s likely everyone has been affected in one way or another by the pandemic.

“The disruption and threat caused by COVID-19 have affected individuals’ personal, familial, faith, and work lives. The steps that we’ve had to take ― not being able to visit our loved ones in nursing homes or hospitals, disruption of our regular church services, not being able to have our usual social experiences ― have been stressful on everyone. The stressors of the pandemic clearly have increased mental health stressors, likely leading to increases in mental health conditions and the abuse of substances. The fact that the pandemic happened during a divisive election year compounded these stresses on individuals,” Thompson said in a email.

It can be mild symptoms, such as anxiety, sleep disruption, or increased alcohol consumption, all the way up to serious, debilitating conditions Thompson said.

Over 81,000 drug overdose deaths occurred in the United States in the 12 months ending in May 2020, the highest number of overdose deaths ever recorded in a 12-month period, according to recent provisional data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). While overdose deaths were already increasing in the months preceding the (COVID-19) pandemic, the latest numbers suggest an acceleration of overdose deaths during the pandemic.

The CDC recommended encouraging improved detection of overdose outbreaks, and earlier interventions for those at risk, including expanding distribution and use of Naloxone and overdose prevention education, expanding awareness and treatment availability.

As a segment on public radio recently pointed out: substance abuse is something people can do alone, especially if they have nowhere to go and nothing to do. These problems didn’t show up overnight and it will take time to work these problems out.

“I encourage everyone to reach out to friends, family members, strangers and just ask, ‘How are you doing?’” Thompson said.

Resources in Batesville include The Stepping Stone and Senior Haven, both offered by WRMC. There’s also Pinnacle Pointe, Life Strategies Counseling, and MidSouth Health Systems. Additionally, the University of Arkansas for Medical Science has AR-Connect. For more information about AR-Connect, e-mail arconnect@uams.edu. The AR-Connect call center is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, at 501-526-3563 or 800-482-9921. The virtual clinic operates Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Rural Arkansans have plenty of stress in their daily lives, but the pandemic will be remembered as a time as mandatory masks, cancelled church services, and people lost: Both to the virus, and the unintentional victims of social distancing.

Beshears holds a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Lyon College in Batesville and a master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from John Brown University. Thompson has served as Arkansas surgeon general and leads the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement in its current efforts to address emerging and existing health issues.

Feeding the community

Volunteers with the Heber Springs School District spent time over this past Valentine’s Day weekend packing up food boxes for community members to pick up during a distribution event on Sunday. The district also provided additional internet hotspots to students’ families, in anticipation of the winter weather this week. The boxes had a direct impact on the community. Students and staff were on the front lines directing traffic, greeting, and helping to load them up in the vehicles.

In 2020, Arkansas Foodbank distributed 40.4 million pounds of food across central and southern Arkansas, a 37 percent increase from 2019. The Foodbank attributes the sharp rise in distribution to the economic impact the coronavirus pandemic had on communities across central and southern Arkansas. As workers were laid off, schools closed and seniors became home-bound, more Arkansans than ever before needed assistance putting food on tables.

“Thousands of Arkansans are only a paycheck away from experiencing hunger. The pandemic only intensified the challenges these people were already facing,” said Rhonda Sanders, CEO of Arkansas Foodbank. “With each new year, we set new goals and plan for how we can reach more people, but March of 2020 quickly revealed that we would be helping people who had never needed the Foodbank before – people we didn’t expect to serve.”

Sanders explained that because the need for food increased so rapidly, the Foodbank had to adjust its operation model in order to distribute larger volumes of food while keeping staff, volunteers and clients safe.

“Many of our partner agencies had to pause their operations to ensure the health and safety of their volunteers and staff, leaving large service gaps across our region,” said Sanders. “In response, the Foodbank took a hands-on approach by quickly pulling together resources and staff to pack emergency food boxes in our warehouse. Those boxes were given away to schools and through mobile food distributions to assist neighbors and students with immediate needs.”

Many of these additional resources were provided via USDA programs like The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) and the Coronavirus Federal Assistance Program (CFAP), also known as the Farmers to Families Food Box Program. With farmers facing their own set of challenges because of the pandemic, the federal government purchased excess food from local farmers to provide for direct distribution, including fresh products like meat, dairy and vegetables. Because of CFAP, the Foodbank provided 5.6 million pounds of this food, 15 percent of its total distribution, to our neighbors in central and southern Arkansas during 2020.

Prior to the pandemic, 17 percent of Arkansans were considered food-insecure. Now, Feeding America projects that number will rise to 22 percent, meaning an additional 75,000 people could need help finding food in the days ahead.

“Food banks across the country are facing a food cliff in 2021,” says Sanders. “As federal emergency programs are expected to scale back, there will be a gaping hole left for these organizations to fill. In Arkansas alone, it will cost millions to make up the difference in order for these people to have enough to eat.”

The Foodbank is preparing for this increased need and building its capacity for the months and years ahead. “We know it’s going to take a while for families and individuals to get back on their feet,” says Sanders. “To make sure we’re prepared, we’re scaling our operations to include more mobile distributions, adding to our fleet to deliver larger volumes and expanding our storage capacity so that we can accept more food.”

Trailer provides simulations for students

A sampling of high-paying skilled jobs that don’t require a four-year degree visited Heber Springs High School last week. The “Be Pro Be Proud” trailer is equipped with technology that gives students the chance to safely experience simulations of working in those skilled careers.

Like the commercial tractor trailer driving simulator.

“The semi-truck simulator was definitely harder than I thought. In a car I can apply the brake and know that my car will stop soon, with the truck it was a longer distance and time to come to a full stop. I never realized how much physical work goes into driving a semi,” said Ellie Riddle, a senior.

Superintendent Dr. Andy Ashley even tried a few of the simulators, like the heavy equipment operator. Another popular stop in the trailer was the lineman simulator.

“Loved the lineman simulator because not only did it feel real but it also put you into a real life situation,” said Ty Southerland, a tenth-grader.

Congressman John Boozeman has written in the past about the importance of career and technical schools in preparing students for careers in trades. It’s an important step in fostering long term economic growth because almost a quarter of the state’s skilled professionals are at or near retirement age.

“Arkansas’s employers need talented workers who are prepared to fill the surge of expected vacancies, as well as those to step into positions created by the many new employers choosing to call the Natural State home,” Boozman wrote in one of his columns, which appears in newspapers across Arkansas. The program’s outreach will “help young Arkansans realize that you don’t need an undergraduate degree to get ahead in life.”

The Be Pro Be Proud Mobile Workshop, a 78-foot semi-truck and trailer that showcases numerous technical professions through augmented reality simulators. It allows students the opportunity to gauge their interest, skills, and aptitude for various professional careers such as: computer-aided drafting (CAD/CAM), electricity lineman, computer programming, heavy equipment operator, fiber optic repair, welding, commercial truck driving, HVAC repair, electrician, plumbing, and diesel mechanic repair.

“Be Pro Be Proud” is a workforce development initiative working out of the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce/Associated Industries of Arkansas (AIA) that connects students around the state to high-tech, high-paying careers. Through partnerships with state agencies, local industry, and higher education entities, “Be Pro Be Proud” is working to replenish the professional workforce that has been experiencing a drastic decline.

Since 2016, “Be Pro Be Proud” has hosted more than 100,000 visitors on the Mobile Workshop, across 308 cities and 586 tour stops, letting the communities they visit see the opportunities for students to have high-tech, high-wage careers without going into debt.

Carlos Cuevas won the 157 lb weight class at the AMC championship duels. With his win Cuevas qualified for the national tournament.

Deep freeze, snow create multiple worries for cattle, poultry operations

LITTLE ROCK — Single-digit wind chills, freezing water in pipes and troughs and high snow loads on roofs are causing concerns for poultry and cattle operations, specialists from the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture said Monday.

Low temperatures reported Monday morning to the National Weather Service included minus 5 at Compton, zero at Lead Hill and 2 degrees at Gilbert. At noon Monday, the North Little Rock airport had 10.9 inches of snow, while Greers Ferry, Perryville and Vilonia all reported 11 inches of snow, according to the National Weather Service.

For poultry growers, “the biggest problems are having water pipes freezing and watering equipment not working,” said Dustan Clark, extension poultry specialist for the Division of Agriculture.

Clark said many growers are putting space heaters and heat lamps in control rooms to keep pipes from freezing solid and to allow electronic control equipment to keep operating.

“Some are getting very little sleep – setting alarms and some are staying up all night – to check waterlines and birds,” he said. “Poultry growers that don’t have the best insulation; it’s going to be harder to keep those houses warm.”

“Roof collapse – that is a worry,” Clark said. “Depends on how much snow you’ve got. Most can handle it, but when we have 8 inches of snow in this last round, and if we get much more; maybe 2-6 inches, that could be rough on some of those poultry houses.”

Keeping cattle fed, watered

“Cows in good body condition and have a good winter coat are fairly tolerant of cold weather,” said Shane Gadberry, professor-ruminant nutrition and extension specialist. “Arkansas cattle are at a disadvantage because they haven’t had time to adapt to extremely cold temperatures.

Gadberry said “thin cows, cows with short hair, lactating cows, and Brahman-influenced cattle breeds will have a little tougher time meeting the increased energy needs when it is cold and wet outside.”

There are certainly no snow days for ranchers, who have to be outside, no matter the weather.

“Cows will eat more when they are really cold, so it is important to keep plenty of good quality hay in front of cattle at all times and supplement hay that is moderate- to low-quality with grain or grain byproduct-type feeds,” Gadberry said. “Ranchers may want to avoid using range meals at this time because the salt will make cows want to drink and the bitter cold is making a lot of water sources frozen over and less accessible.

“It is important to break ice and make water accessible to maintain normal water consumption,” he said. “Hopefully this event won’t last more than a week.”

However, when things start to thaw out, there are still issues ranchers need to worry about.

“When the temperature gets back to normal and the ground thaws, feeding areas may need to be relocated or ranchers may want to start unrolling hay to keep feeding sites distributed over larger areas to avoid creating deep mud tracks,” Gadberry said. “Deep mud makes it difficult for cattle to get to hay and eat as much as they could otherwise.”