With Dr. Renee Fay-Leblanc and Dr. Gita Rao of Greater Portland Health 

QUESTION: I hear all kinds of things about the COVID-19 vaccine – that it causes problems with getting pregnant, that the government is using it to control people, that big companies use it to make people sick so they will get more money. What do you think? 

The COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective. There is no evidence that the vaccine interferes with women’s ability to become pregnant. The vaccine is recommended for women who are trying to conceive and those who are currently pregnant. Having COVID while pregnant can be dangerous for both the mother and the baby, and vaccination is the best way to protect against moderate to severe COVID infection. 

There is no evidence to support the claims that the government is using the vaccine to control people or that companies are making people sick. The COVID vaccines have been studied extensively and now millions of people all over the world have successfully received the vaccines. They have been shown to be safe and effective and to significantly decrease the risk of hospitalization and death from COVID. As a medical professional, I strongly encourage vaccination against COVID-19.  

COVID vaccines are available all over the state. Visit www.vaccines.gov to find local pharmacies that are offering COVID vaccination. Vaccination is free. 

QUESTION: My cousin needs a therapist but his family thinks he is either possessed or just weak. They try to hide his problems. He drinks too much and he imagines crazy things about people trying to hurt him. Now he has lost his job. His family is ashamed of him. I don’t know how to help him. 

Mental illnesses and substance use disorders are common medical conditions.  Sometimes people who experience these conditions can mistakenly be considered “lazy” or “possessed” or “lacking will power,” but actually, these are medical conditions that affect brain function.  

These conditions can be effectively treated through counseling or a combination of counseling and medication. Unfortunately, because of the stigmas associated with these conditions, many people do not feel comfortable accessing treatment. It will be important for your cousin to know that others have similar struggles. The pressures of acculturation, isolation, trauma, and emotional distress are significant and can add to mental illness and substance use disorders. Accessing treatment can create profound changes.  

As a concerned family member, let your cousin know that you are worried about him and that you’d like to support him in getting help.  Here are a few resources: 

Mobile Crisis, (207) 774-HELP: The Opportunity Alliance operates a 24/7 crisis response team that can be mobile and assist people who are having a mental health crisis. 

NAMI Maine Helpline, (800) 464-57657: NAMI is a safe and confidential mental health service for peers, law enforcement, professionals, friends, and family members. It provides support, education, and advocacy for anyone with questions about mental health concerns. The Helpline is available Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.