Session held on mental health in age of COVID-19

By Matt de Simone

Contributing writer


Bonniwell is pictured discussing mental health and substance use disorders.

The second of Botetourt County’s Community Education Sessions streamed live on Facebook last Thursday. Cody Sexton, assistant to the Botetourt County administrator, welcomed the community to the broadcast. He introduced members of Blue Ridge Behavioral Healthcare (BRBH) and the discussion’s topic: the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on mental health and well being.

The presentation centered around learning how to promote good mental health during challenging times, preventing more serious problems from occurring, and what to do if people experience more significant problems. “We have to provide helpful information to Botetourt County residents and residents of any locality who are watching,” Sexton explained at the onset of the presentation. “We’ll help navigate the stress that they or their loved ones may be feeling during these changing times.”

Chief Executive Officer of BRBH Debbie Bonniwell led the Zoom presentation. Chief Clinical Officer Tamara Starnes and Wellness Specialist Sheila Lythgoe provided additional information.

Bonniwell opened the discussion explaining that “it’s okay to not be okay right now.” She gave examples of feelings and inconveniences associated with affects from the COVID-19 pandemic. She talked about some of the stresses the sudden changes in day-to-day life can disrupt a person’s mental wellness.

Starnes spoke about factors which produce chronic stress. Some of her examples included fears of seeking medical care after possible exposure, economic impacts on people who have lost their jobs or have reduced hours on the clock due to the pandemic, and changes in routines regarding fellowship within the community whether it be at church, a ball game, or hugging elderly family members.

Starnes also talked about mental health and substance abuse disorders. She gave examples of resources that can help those in need of treatment and who to contact for support during troubling times. “We want to be helpful to each other as much as we can and support each other when going through things like COVID-19,” Starnes said.

Lythgoe is pictured presenting the various types of self-care. [SUBMITTED PHOTOS]
Lythgoe focused on prevention and wellness—namely, having the resilience to overcome disconcerting times. “Resiliency can be taught, learned, and expanded for everyone,” Lythgoe explained. “It’s that middle reserve of strength that people are able to call on in times of need to carry through without falling apart.” She lastly spoke about the importance of self-care—taking care of oneself mentally, physically, socially, and spiritually.

Bonniwell provided safety precautions pertaining to BRBH locations to close the presentation. BRBH is currently open to the public for new clients and referrals. They now offer online “telehealth” options for those who don’t want to leave their homes. Blue Ridge Behavioral Healthcare serves over 8,300 people in Botetourt County, Roanoke County, Roanoke City, Salem City, and Craig County. More information can be found at

To watch this presentation in its entirety, the VOD is available at the Botetourt County Government’s Facebook page:

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