For the last few weeks, health news has topped the list of everyone’s concerns.
But the information about the evolving COVID-19 coronavirus crisis has focused mainly on our physical health and well-being.
But, there’s another side to consider. In addition to keeping our social distance, washing our hands, coughing into our elbows and avoiding touching our faces, we also need to be in touch with our mental health, says Rachael Bersdale, chief behavioral health officer for Comtrea, which provides mental health and other health-related services in Jefferson County.
“People are struggling out there. There’s a lot of stress,” she said. “People are fearful of losing their jobs, staying well, new patterns of interacting with people and finding things they need, including, yes, toilet paper. And then you look at the environmental situation, of having the society disrupted, and that can leave people feeling isolated and disconnected, and that can lead to things like panic attacks and depression.”
Bersdale said it’s important to know in this time of social distancing that we are all still connected.
“It’s important for people to know they’re not alone. Everyone is trying to adjust in these times of uncertainty. And it’s tough,” she said. “One day, you adjust to what’s going on, and you wake up the next day, and there’s more news, and more things you have to adjust to.”
For most people, Bersdale said, mental health care is relatively simple and involves common sense.
“The basic thing for people is to make sure you’re setting a routine or staying in your regular routine,” she said. “If you’re home and you’re not used to always being at home, make sure you’re getting up at a regular time. If you take medications, continue to take them. If you’re working from home, make those calls, go on those Zoom teleconferences – hopefully you’ll feel like you’ve accomplished something at the end of the day.”
In addition to tending to your own mental state, Bersdale said, parents have additional responsibilities.
“For parents of young children, remember that they don’t understand everything that’s happening. Take the time to talk with them, reassure them that they’re going to be OK,” she said. “If you’ve got older children, understand that they’re feeling disconnected from their friend group and their school group.
“Be a role model for them, and show them it’s important to get some rest. Disconnect. Don’t watch Netflix all night. Use and practice healthy coping skills.”
Different strokes for different folks
Bersdale acknowledges that social media sites like Facebook have included humorous posts about “huggers” who don’t know how to cope in a social-distancing world while introverts are in their element. While humorous, she said, they have an element of truth.
“For extroverts, they’re not happy they can’t get out and see their friends, and that’s important to them,” she said. “But if you’re that kind of person, rather than focus on what’s been taken away from you, think about what you still can do. You can still connect in ways that aren’t face to face. (Use) social media, texting, reaching out to actually call a friend and hear a voice.
“For those people who draw their support from a friend group, from a work group, from their neighbors, there are going to be challenges. But think about ways you arise to meet those challenges.
“I’ve heard of a neighborhood group that’s taking walks together. They’re staying 10 feet apart, and some of them are walking on the grass and others on the sidewalk, but they’re staying connected to each other. There are ways to remain connected.”
Those who are less social are not less affected, Bersdale said.
“For introverts, you might want to think they’re coping better in these times of social isolation, but it’s important for their family members and friends to check in with them,” she said. “See how they’re doing. And if they’re seeing a counselor, or taking medications, continue on that schedule.”
Some need extra TLC
For those who were suffering from some mental issues before the coronavirus hit, Bersdale said, the additional upheaval can present the possibility of a breaking point.
“This can be a particularly trying time for people who already are experiencing a lot of stressors. Now there’s more trauma being put on top of that,” she said. “That can decrease their resilience, so it’s important to seek help. The important thing to know is that no one out there is alone; there are people who are willing to listen and to help.”
See a list of resources available to anyone needing help with mental health issues accompanying this story.
Bersdale offered some tips for those who are dealing with mental health issues.
“I’d say what they need to keep in mind is to continue to do the things that have been working for them. If you’ve been seeing a counselor, continue to see that counselor. If you’re been prescribed medication, continue to take them. Use the coping skills that you have been taught. These will come in very useful.”
Domestic abuse and child abuse
Bersdale said problems like domestic abuse and child abuse are likely to rise in the coming weeks.
“I’m afraid the outlook is not good when it comes to these types of situations,” she said. “We’re expecting to see more cases. In many families, there is closer contact, and more stressors, and unfortunately what we’re seeing with child abuse is a decrease in reports, mainly because the children are not in situations where adults and schools and other places can observe and report situations.
“We’re also likely to see an increase in the suicide rate, in strokes from drinking too much alcohol and drug abuse calls.
“The longer this continues, the more some people’s resilience will be tested. But know that there are resources out there to help you. You might not need them today, you might not need them tomorrow or you might not need them ever, but it’s good to know that the resources are out there.”