Times are tough, really tough. As COVID 19 quickly spreads around the planet, millions have been told to stay at home or risk further exacerbating the disease. While absolutely the smart way to go, that self-isolation is just as harmful to millions of people around the world who are dealing with either preexisting mental health issues, new ones and even being trapped in an abusive household. While some have addressed the topic of mental health during the Coronavirus crisis, I wanted to share my own thoughts in the hopes of encouraging others to stay safe in ways that don’t involve facemasks or hand sanitizers.
Self-Isolation Can Be Debilitating
Believe me, I’ve dealt with my fair share of issues over the last 44 years so I’m speaking from a place of authority. But, for those who are prone to depressive thoughts the last couple of weeks have been very difficult. The chief problem for many millions has been the sudden loss of their jobs. Whether you work in the service, restaurant or travel industries, chances are the last week or two have meant either an incredible reduction in your pay or the loss of a salary altogether. So much of our identities are wrapped up in our jobs, that to lose one – even through no fault of one’s own – has severe, almost crippling psychological effects.
Even if you haven’t lost your job and salary that goes along with it, self-isolation alone is incredibly triggering. The mere act of social distancing and quarantines is enough to enhance those with suicidal ideations, even apart from additional stressors. The problem is, we all have those additional stressors. Even without losing your job, there is real fear connected with the pandemic. No one wants to get sick and of course we’re worried for friends and family who are also at risk. Put together, it’s the perfect storm for anyone with mental health issues.
Experts say that the more socially connected someone is, the less likely they are to die by suicide. Unfortunately, the best way to deal with the pandemic is also a sure-fire way to decrease these all-important social connections and no, social media is not taking up the slack. We’re human and we need even modest connections, whether it’s at the store, the gym or just meeting up with friends for lunch. We may not even realize how important these minor events have been in keeping us mentally sound until we lose them, as we have in the last couple of weeks.
To be clear, there is no single source for anyone’s mental health issues. That being said, dealing with a pandemic, interruptions to financial stability and the inherent stress of daily life in quarantine do not help. Even if suicidal ideations are not an issue, depression, anxiety, changes in sleep patterns, worsening of chronic health problems and an increased use of alcohol and other drugs may still be. Now, more than ever perhaps, it is vital that we all maintain our interpersonal relationships as best we can.
How To Help and Cope
One thing that has deeply impressed me since the start of this crisis is the kindness and resiliency of others. People have been hilarious on social media and they’ve also made efforts to help others, both of which are critical right now. Here are some tips to help you better cope with everything going on and how to help others do the same.
It’s ok to be selfish – First off, you have to help yourself before you can help others. It’s ok to be a little selfish right now and do what you need to do in order to shore up your own feelings and issues. If you don’t, you won’t be in any position to be helpful to those special people in your life. I’ve found that establishing a routine is important. Get up at the same time, take a shower and get dressed, do work or set a schedule for yourself, do some exercise, eat well – these are all fantastic ways to reestablish a sense of normalcy in your daily life. Also, if you’re feeling stress or something more severe, reach out. I’m terrible at doing this, but I’m slowly understanding just how important it is. People won’t judge you for asking for a little help. In fact, I bet they’re waiting to be there for you.
If you have kids at home – I don’t have kids, but most of my friends do and the stress on them has varied widely. A few commonalities though seem to be important. Talk to them openly and frankly about what’s going on and why it’s happening. Reassure them that they’re safe and ok but that it’s also ok for them to feel anxious. It might also help to share your feelings and how you cope with them. Like yourself, create a regular routine that makes sense for them. Finally, limit exposure to news coverage of the event, inclusive of social media channels. It’s been overwhelming for me and I can only imagine the impact it’s having on kids and teens.
Be there for others – I think that this is critically important. We all have social connections and we all have routines in which we see other human beings. Those moments are important and it’s because of that that we must maintain them. How you do that will vary on you and your friends. It could mean a phone call or text message, or Face Timing with someone you never usually Face Time with. Other people have established group video calls for impromptu virtual happy hours or just catching up. No matter your preference, it’s important to be more active than normal with friends and family. Ultimately, you may never know if someone in your life is in crisis and who knows, the simple act of reaching out may be the lifeline they need.
People are like icebergs
“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle,” is the quote that I love to refer to, because it’s absolutely true. Life isn’t easy for anyone, it doesn’t matter if the problems are First World or not they’re still problems that affect us deeply. In my life I have known: alcoholics, cheating spouses, people who have suffered abuse, drug addicts and more. These same people are doctors, lawyers, economists, politicians and other highly functioning professionals. If you met them on the street you would see smart people with families and loved ones, but you would never see the battles they are fighting. Such is the case for all of us, although naturally not to the extremes perhaps in the cases I cited. Hence the importance, no, the necessity of treating people with respect and kindness no matter what. These battles are only amplified when placed under this very unusual level of stress so be kind and more attentive than normal.
If you need help, please reach out! There are resources in nearly every country for those dealing with mental health stress. In the U.S.:
Disaster Distress 1-800-985-5990 and the National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-7233