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By Bernard Freeman
Mental Health and the Pandemic
The global COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented event. Most of us have never experienced anything like it, and it’s OK to feel a little challenged right now.
You may have noticed you’re extra irritable, anxious and stressed. It doesn’t feel normal, and that’s because nothing right now is normal. Know that you’re not alone, and keep reading more about managing your mental health during a pandemic.
What is Stress?
High stress levels can cause:
- Feelings of fear, anger, sadness, worry, numbness or frustration.
- Changes in appetite, energy, desires and interests.
- Difficulty concentrating and making decisions.
- Difficulty sleeping.
- Physical reactions such as headaches, body pains, stomach problems and skin rashes.
- Worsening chronic health conditions and mental health conditions.
- Increased use of tobacco, alcohol and other substances.
Coping With Stress
It may seem like all the news you hear is bad. So, take a break. It’s OK to put a pause on watching, reading or listening to news stories, including social media. Hearing about the pandemic constantly can be upsetting. If you have to watch, consider only watching once or twice a day.
Set aside time to unwind with other activities that you may enjoy. Talk to people you trust about your concerns and how you’re feeling, including perhaps some community- or faith-based organizations through virtual meetings or over the phone.
It’s important to set aside time to take care of your body. Make sure you focus on breathing and stretching, and learn meditation techniques. Eat healthy, well-balanced meals and get plenty of rest. Get some exercise and fresh air.
Continue your pandemic precautions, such as wearing a mask and washing your hands, and get a vaccine as soon as you can.
In addition to taking care of yourself, take care of those around you. As we’re all social distancing, it can be isolating to some people. Be sure to stay connected with friends and family, even if it’s virtually. Helping other people to cope with their own stress through phone calls or video chats can help you feel less lonely or isolated.
Call your health care provider if the stress becomes difficult for you to handle. If you’re in crisis, call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK or 888-628-9454 for help in Spanish. If you’re a veteran, you can text 8388255.
When to Get Emergency Help
One in five adults, about 43 million people, experience mental health issues in a given year, the National Mental Health Institutes says.
The consequences of not getting help are severe. NAMI says that people with mental illnesses face an increased risk of treatable chronic health conditions, and adults in the U.S. with mental illness die an average 25 years earlier than others.
Those consequences also include death. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. More than 90% of children who die by suicide have a mental health condition, and every day, around 20 veterans die by suicide. Keep reading to learn more about the signs it’s time to get help.
Understanding Mental Health Crises
A mental health crisis is any situation in which a person’s behavior puts them at risk of hurting themselves or others, NAMI says. Some warning signs of a mental health crisis include:
- An inability to perform daily tasks like bathing, brushing teeth or hair, changing clothes.
- Rapid mood swings, an increased energy level, inability to stay still, suddenly depressed or withdrawn, or suddenly happy or calm after a period of depression.
- Increased agitation, verbal threats, violent, out-of-control behavior.
- Abusive behavior to themselves or others.
- Isolation from work, school, family or friends.
- Loss of touch with reality, including being unable to recognize family or friends, confusion, strange ideas and not understanding what people are saying.
Risk of Suicide
People who attempt suicide usually feel overwhelming emotional pain, frustration, loneliness, worthlessness, guilt, rage or hopelessness, according to NAMI. Social isolation is a common feeling, with people with mental illnesses feeling like no one cares if they live or die.
Any mention of suicide should be taken seriously. Common warning signs of suicide include:
- Giving away possessions.
- Talking as if they’re saying goodbye.
- Taking steps to tie up loose ends, like organizing personal papers or paying off debts.
- Making or changing a will.
- Stockpiling pills.
- Getting a weapon.
- Preoccupation with death.
- Sudden cheerfulness or calm after a period of despondency.
- Withdrawal from friends, family and normal activity.
If you think that someone is thinking about suicide, start the conversation. Start off by saying what signs you’ve noticed. Then be frank, and ask if they’ve been thinking about suicide. If the answer is yes, call a therapist immediately. Take away any potential means of action by removing weapons and medications. Call the National Suicide Prevention line at 800-273-8255.
Focus on being understanding, caring and nonjudgmental.