Fear of the unknown and isolation combine during the coronavirus pandemic to adversely affect people’s mental health, said Mary Peterson, the director for clinical services at Family Counseling Services of Cortland County Inc.
New information about the virus comes out almost daily with little expert advice about it, just as shelter in place orders have made people feel distant from their usual daily life, just as America marks Mental Health Month in May.
What you can do
Here are some tips to deal with anxiety during the coronavirus pandemic For everyone:
- Manage which sites you get coronavirus information from and check them only once or twice a day.
- Practice good self-care including exercising, eating healthily and getting enough sleep.
- Stay connected with friends and family.
- Find or create spaces that are not focused on COVID-19.
For people seeking mental health services:
- Develop a coping plan with your mental health provider.
- Work with your mental health provider to manage anxiety and come up with skills you can rehearse.
- Work with your mental health provider on options if your routine services are disrupted.
- Seek peer support.
SOURCE: NYS Office of Mental Health
If you need mental health assistance, call:
- New York State COVID-19 Emotional Support line: 844-8639314.
- Cortland County Crisis Hotline: 607-756-3771.
- Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741.
- If you feel suicidal, call the National Suicide Prevention line at 800-273-8255.
“Everything is different and many wonder, ‘will it ever be the same?’” Peterson said. “No one knows. We have no models of comparison. The entire world is living this together. Nothing makes one feel smaller than this realization.”
Nearly 1 in 25, or 10 million, adults in America live with a serious mental illness, according to the National Council for Behavioral Health.
Mental Health Month aims to raise awareness and fight the stigma of mental health, according to the National Alliance on Mental Health.
With the coronavirus pandemic altering daily life, mental health care providers look at the concerns the virus has brought to people with mental health illnesses and safe ways to help alleviate them.
Peterson’s two biggest observed concerns — fear of the unknown and isolation — can
provoke depression, leading to unhealthy behaviors such as binge eating and substance or alcohol abuse.
Suicide is also a risk, she said. Along with depression, people feel anxious about the choices they make because of the unpredictable nature of their lives right now.
“We are faced with dichotomies in every decision we make right now,” she said. “How much risk is too much risk? What if? Should I save money or spend money?”
Uncertainties about what reopening parts of the economy and what people going back to work may look like can further add to those anxieties, she said.
While people may not be able to connect with each other in person, Peterson recommends people talk with friends and loved ones through video chats like Zoom or phone calls.
“Calming strategies like self-care, mindfulness, structuring the day, and not putting pressure on ourselves to make every minute productive all help,” she said.
At Access to Independence of Cortland County Inc., the biggest issue for clients has been isolation, said Aaron Baier, the executive director.
The organization still provides services virtually and remotely, but the building is closed to the public, preventing walk-ins, a once-frequent method of getting help.
“A lot of clients have realized that a lack of internet or a lack of phone minutes have become a bigger issue to them,” he said.
The organization, though, is providing check-in services to help deal with that, he said.
ATI helps clients develop skills to live independent lives, which, in regard to mental health, can be a variety of things.
“Mental health is a huge spectrum of needs” including lack of confidence or motivation, Baier said.
Speaking with friends and family or going for a walk are also good ways to deal with isolation, Baier said.
“Don’t forget the great outdoors is a great place to gather your thoughts,” he added.