Staying mentally healthy amidst COVID-19
— Created April 8, 2020 by Kathy Reed
By Kathy Reed
We are living in stressful times. COVID-19 has disrupted our lives. Many have lost jobs, others are working from home, our kids are not in school, we can no longer socialize with friends and even family because of social distancing. It is normal to feel anxiety and stress as we stare our new reality in the face.
For those dealing with mental health issues, these feelings can be compounded.
“Many of us have underlying mental health issues which become symptomatic due to stress,” said Mike Long, a trained volunteer and Family-to-Family Class instructor for South Whidbey National Alliance on Mental Illness support group “The anxiety of contracting COVID-19 and the increase in loneliness due to isolation are major causes for stress, which can trigger symptoms.”
“This is just a general observation from talking to people, but depression and anxiety are on the rise,” agreed Ellen Rider, an education group leader for the same South Whidbey NAMI support group. “Frankly, who doesn’t suffer from depression and anxiety at some point in their lives?”
Just as no one is immune from potentially contracting the COVID-19 virus, which can affect people differently, everyone needs to be able to recognize the potential mental health impacts the virus and all the safety measures surrounding it can have – which can also affect people differently.
“We all cope with things differently,” said Rider.
Some signs one may be struggling with potential mental health issues could include high anxiety, loneliness and obsession – such as fixating on disease prevention or news. Still other signs could include lack of sleep, little to no appetite, fatigue, agitation, being argumentative or angry, cognitive decline, inability to focus, staring, lack of enjoyment or laughter, lack of interest, threatening behavior or paranoia, among other things, according to Long.
Despite social distancing, there are still ways we can connect with one another, especially with those we know may be struggling with mental health issues.
“It’s kind of like when you are sick – you don’t want to talk to anyone,” explained Rider. “But with mental health, it’s even worse. I encourage people to get in touch, check in with people from time to time. Let people vent and talk, so they know they’re not alone.”
“We can use social media for connecting with our family and friends through online services such as Skype, Zoom, Facebook, etc.,” said Long. “There is a great online South Whidbey community help service called www.whidbeyhelp.com, where you can post your own needs or respond to others’ needs.”
In addition to reaching out and talking to people, Island County Behavioral Health last week issued some tips for managing stress and anxiety during this unusual time, such as getting enough sleep, eating healthy, exercising and taking breaks from social media and news. Recommendations also include relying on information from official sources such as Island County Public Health, Washington State Department of Health or the Centers for Disease Control; following guidelines for disease prevention like washing hands frequently, avoiding close contact with people who are sick, cleaning and disinfecting surfaces regularly, covering coughs and sneezes and staying at home when ill.
Finally, be aware of the resources available. Health experts believe one in five Americans experience a mental illness and nearly one out of every 25 adults in America live with a serious mental illness. Island County Human Services has a mental health line especially for COVID-19 – 360-678-2346. The line is staffed from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Island County residents can reach the local VOA crisis line 24 hours a day at 1-800-584-3578 or the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.
More information on mental health can be found online at www.islandcountywa.gov/humanservices/behavioral-health/Pages/Home.aspx or at www.nami.org.