Making it through a crisis

MANAGING YOUR MENTAL HEALTH DURING A PANDEMICBY ASHTON SULLIVAN

There’s a crisis occurring, and it’s not just the virus that threatens our physical health.  As a mental health provider, I’m on the frontlines of what some are declaring the “secondary pandemic,” or the “mental health pandemic.”  While there still exists a stigma around the topic of mental health, it must be addressed.  Millions of people are suffering from the emotional effects of COVID-19. 

Before COVID, approximately 1 in 5 Americans suffered from a mental illness.  A study by the CDC conducted last June reported a significant rise in adverse mental health conditions, substance use, and suicidal ideation associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.  The good news is help is available and there are things we can do to make it through this crisis.   

Individuals have a wide range of responses to the pandemic.  While some continue their day-to-day lives as normally as possible, others have become increasingly anxious.  Some find themselves obsessing over the news, washing their hands compulsively, or getting angry at others who are not “following the rules.”

Others may be experiencing loneliness or loss.  Some have lost their jobs, their businesses, or a loved one whom they weren’t even able to see one last time due to COVID restrictions.  Others have missed out on life events such as graduations, family reunions, and social gatherings.

Kids may struggle to understand why they can’t go to school or play with their friends at the park.  Disruptions in their routine may cause them to forget homework assignments, lose motivation, or become anxious or depressed. Here are some mental health tips:

Stay connected

Be intentional about connecting with loved ones.  Humans are wired for connection and lacking in this area can result in adverse effects on our mental health.  Share your struggles and offer support to others. Don’t rely on social media.

Get creative

Do something you enjoy.  Start a new project, pick up a new hobby, or keep a journal.  Creativity gives our brains a boost of feel-good chemicals and a sense of accomplishment.

Go outdoors and exercise

Just like social connection and enjoyment, humans require physical activity and sunlight in order to maintain balance.  Exercise doesn’t have to be dreadful- pick something you don’t hate. Gardening, walking the dog, or virtual fitness classes are a few of many ways you can get moving.

Establish a routine

While children are incredibly resilient, they thrive off consistency and routine.  Knowing the rules, what to expect, and who they can turn to for help provides them with a sense of safety and security.  Adults with established (but flexible) routines also tend to perform better.

Recognize signs of distress and don’t be afraid to seek help

Signs that may indicate help is needed include significant changes in mood (e.g., irritability, negativity, sadness, loss of interest or pleasure in things you once enjoyed, constant worry or panic episodes, feeling on edge) or significant changes in behavior (sleeping more or less than usual, appetite changes, withdrawal from others, frequent conflict, anger outbursts, crying spells, and loss of motivation). 

Most mental health providers offer virtual Telehealth sessions over secure video calls that you can do from almost anywhere while using any device.  Telehealth is simple, easy to use, and just as effective as in-person sessions.  Check with your insurance company by calling the number on the back of your card to find an in-network provider near you or search therapists in your area on Psychology Today.


Ashton Sullivan, a licensed counselor and art therapist, is owner of Emerge Counseling & Art Therapy.