Lately, all we seem to hear about in the news is COVID-19, which is not surprising given its impact worldwide and particularly here in Georgia. Many mental health experts predict the pandemic will have a substantial impact on mental health. Those who have survived the illness and/or who have lost loved ones may be deeply affected mentally and emotionally, as well as medical staff who treat people with the virus. The pandemic also can cause stress, anxiety and depression for those who experience a financial change during this time, as well as people who fear catching the virus.
Mental illness is a lot more common than people realize. According to the CDC, one in five people will have mental illness in their lifetime. Many times, it is temporary and situational, which may be the case for many due to the pandemic. For others, the impacts of mental illness may last a lifetime. The good news is mental illness can be treated successfully. There are millions of people with mental illness living in recovery, having learned how to manage their illness through therapy and perhaps medication.
Right now, because of the pandemic, we are all in what is known as a stress response, and it’s being triggered almost continuously. We are in a situation that is completely new, and we are seeing a lot of fear, anxiety, anger and low tolerance for frustration. It’s such an abnormal situation that these types of feelings are normal reactions. After more than half a year of dealing with the coronavirus, we are all getting a little weary, and that places additional stress on our already overtaxed emotions and mental health.
People may experience depression and grief because there are a lot of losses right now. An obvious loss would be losing a family member to COVID-19, but there are other types of losses we might not realize, especially for kids; graduation ceremonies, team sports and prom are all things that have been canceled or postponed. Homeschooling may be something new to kids as well that creates a loss of normalcy in their lives. And of course, people are losing jobs, and that financial insecurity can be extremely stressful.
If you or your family member is feeling overwhelmed or if you are depressed or anxious and those feelings are getting in the way of your life, it’s time to get help. Of course, you can call the Cobb County Community Services Board, or ask your doctor or pediatrician to recommend a mental health provider. We are definitely in a time where there can be an increased risk of mental health problems, and the most important and beneficial thing you can do – for yourself and for your family – is to get help if you need it.
There are strategies you can use to help calm that stress response. You can find the right combination of activities, or lack of activities, for you and your family.
- Identify the things you do have control over and make constructive decisions about what you will include, and exclude, in your daily routine. Having a schedule helps to maintain a feeling of normalcy in the home.
- Practice good sleep hygiene along with increased personal hygiene. Go to bed at the same time each night, and reduce (or stop altogether) the use of electronics two to three hours prior to bedtime. Give your mind and body time to relax.
- Eat a balanced diet, even though stress can make us crave comfort food.
- Increase activities that can help induce calm and relaxation – exercise, meditation, prayer or mindfulness.
- Share with children that they are one of the safest groups, as very few children are being impacted by this virus. However, tell them they must do their part – frequent handwashing, an increased focus on personal hygiene and reducing behaviors that spread germs.
- For youth who are missing key life events or experiences, let them know you are disappointed for them. Don’t minimize the priority they place on these events, but help them to understand everyone is losing something during this time and that supporting each other as a family is what is important.
By Melanie Dallas, a licensed professional counselor and the interim CEO of Cobb County Community Services Board and CEO of Highland Rivers Health.