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Mental Health Remains Critical During Pandemic

Paul R. Crosby, MD

Lindner Center of HOPE, Chief Clinical and Operating Officer, Psychiatrist

4075 Old Western Row Rd.

Mason, OH 45040

513-536-HOPE

Most of us are weeks into the significant life changes caused by the novel coronavirus.  Even as we work to adjust to our new normal, there continues to be changing instructions and sometimes confusing and frightening information to process.  Daily, we are being asked to make sacrifices and critically important decisions for the safety and welfare of our family and our communities.  It is important during this crisis to remember to monitor and maintain our own mental wellness.

Some tips to manage the stress of today’s circumstances include avoiding excess exposure to media, including social media, taking care of yourself through exercise, eating healthy foods, getting enough sleep, and talking to friends and family.  Cultivating a practice of mindfulness and gratitude is another evidence-based way of improving wellness and alleviating stress-related mental health symptoms.  For people new to the idea of meditation and to those with more experience, there are many apps, such as Headspace www.headspace.com, to guide the process.  Also, even though social distancing is necessary during these times, seek out safe ways to stay connected with others.  The American Psychological Association, The National Alliance on Mental Illness, and Mental Health America are advocacy organizations that have a wealth of information about supporting your mental wellbeing during this crisis. www.apa.org  www.nami.org www.mhanational.org

With most students out of school and engaged in some combination of home-based and online learning, the situation is understandably stressful for both children and parents.  It can be hard to know where to start; but, try and establish a regular routine.  Children (and most adults) are reassured by structure and predictability.  Try to keep in mind that children learn from watching and listening to the adults around them.  They will be very interested in how you respond to news about the coronavirus outbreak.  Let children know that there are lots of people helping the people affected by the coronavirus outbreak.  This is a good opportunity to show children that when something scary or bad happens, there are people to help. Try to create an open and supportive environment where children know they can ask questions.  It is also important to remember that most children may be more interested in playing games, reading books, and other physical and recreational activities than discussing current events or following the news about what is happening across the country or elsewhere in the world.  The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry’s website is an excellent resource with advice to help families help the children in their lives through the pandemic.  www.aacap.org

When there are many changes and uncertainties that are beyond our control, heightened stress and anxiety are normal feelings.  A time of crisis can also be a trigger for the onset or reoccurrence of mental health symptoms.  If anxiety and/or stress related feelings are causing you significant discomfort or are interfering with relationships, work, or other areas of your life, it may be time to seek help from a mental health professional.  Other symptoms to look for include:

  • Behaving, thinking, or feeling in ways that are out of character
  • Withdrawing from social contacts
  • Lack of interest in things that would normally bring joy
  • Becoming consistently irritable
  • A change in sleep patterns
  • Changes in eating habits and/or weight
  • Increased use of intoxicating substances

It is essential to remember that mental health services are still available during the COVID-19 crisis.  For individuals already receiving mental health and/or substance use disorder treatment services, it is important to continue with these services during this difficult time.  To follow social distancing guidelines, outpatient services for mental health assessment and treatment are being offered virtually via a simple phone call or one of several easy-to-use, secure video conferencing apps.  When needed, in-person services are still being offered with added health and safety measures to keep patients and staff safe throughout their treatment.

Similar to adults, children who become overly preoccupied with concerns about the coronavirus outbreak should be evaluated by a trained and qualified mental health professional.  Other signs that a child is struggling and may need additional help include ongoing sleep disturbances, intrusive thoughts or worries, recurring fears about illness or death.  If you notice similar symptoms or other behaviors, thoughts, or feelings that seem out of character for your child, seek a consultation with a pediatric mental health professional.  For help finding such a provider, your child’s pediatrician, family physician, or school counselor are good places to seek a referral.

Unfortunately, stigma about mental illness remains the key reason that people do not access care.  It is important to know that more than 50 percent of the population will suffer from a diagnosable mental illness at some point in their life and about 20 percent every year.  Only a small fraction of these individuals ever seek treatment.  One way to start breaking the stigma is to start talking about mental illnesses as a part of normal conversation, similar to how we may discuss illnesses like diabetes or high blood pressure.  Mental illnesses are common, biological illnesses that tend to respond very well to treatments that are typically very safe.  The goal of mental health treatment is to get back to feeling completely like yourself again.  In most cases, treatment is highly effective and allows individuals to function to their full potential.

When it comes to mental health, we need to start treating ourselves more gently.  We also need to extend that compassion to those around us.  We may be social-distancing but we are all in this together.  As, together, we work to fight off this pandemic and take up the challenge of recovering from it, kindness to ourselves and others has never been more important.

If you, or someone you care about, are feeling overwhelmed with emotions like sadness, depression, or anxiety, or feel like you want to harm yourself or others call:

  • 911
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA’s) Disaster Distress Helpline: 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746. (TTY 1-800-846-8517)
  • The National Suicide Prevention Line: 800-273-8255