Mental health and COVID-19
Unprecedented. Life-altering. Crisis. These are just a few of the words used to describe the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). News about the pandemic surrounds us and can make us feel stressed, fearful, anxious, and overwhelmed. It’s important to remember that with all of the focus on concerns about our physical health, we need to take care of mental health, too. If you’ve noticed that you need to find ways to cope with the stress you’re feeling these days, you’re not alone. I’m a project leader here at the Science Museum of Minnesota, and I got to work on our Mental Health: Mind Matters exhibit. I’ve been reminding myself of some of the tips for strengthening mental health I learned as we developed that exhibit. (It opened here at SMM in May 2018, and has been touring North America since last year.)
There are many good sites offering information about how to take care of your mental health during these challenging days, and they agree on these general approaches outlined by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in its recommendations for managing stress and anxiety:
Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including social media. Hearing about the pandemic repeatedly can be upsetting.
Take care of your body. Take deep breaths, stretch, or meditate. Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals, exercise regularly, get plenty of sleep, and avoid alcohol and drugs.
Maintain your day-to-day normal activities and routine where possible.
Make time to unwind. Try to do some other activities you enjoy.
Connect with others. Talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling. While we are supposed to socially isolate ourselves to prevent COVID-19 from spreading, we should not emotionally isolate ourselves.
Stress is normal. We all experience it. Some people are able to handle it while others have a harder time. One reason is that some people have healthy thinking. Like learning a new sport or a new language, healthy thinking is a skill you can learn. Here are some ways to do that.
Keep in mind that young people react to anxiety and stress differently than adults. It’s important for all of us to be able to describe the range of feelings and emotions we’re experiencing, and know who, how, and when to ask for help with our feelings. Here are some books that can help get kids thinking about how to identify their feelings and talk about them:
You can also gain strength and insight from listening to the experiences of people we interviewed for the Mental Health: Mind Matters exhibit. Several people shared their powerful stories about living with mental illnesses and managing their recovery. We’ll be posting these resources here soon, so check back for video interviews on anxiety disorders, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, PTSD, and eating disorders.
Finally, one of the things I learned from the Mental Health: Mind Matters exhibition is that if you’re concerned about your mental health, or that of a loved one, don’t wait. Like other treatable medical conditions, seeking help early can lead to better results. One in four of us will be affected by a mental illness at some point in our lives. It’s real. It’s common. It’s treatable. Don’t wait to get help.
Immediate help is available:
Call the warm line at 651-288-0400 or text “Support” to 85511;
Call the crisis team at **CRISIS or click here for the county numbers
Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
Call the SAMHSA Disaster Distress Helpline at 1-800-985-5990
Other COVID-19–specific resources:
NAMI Minnesota offers a lot of resources, and suggests many others:
The Jed Foundation - Tips for Self-Care and Managing Stress
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)
The National Child Traumatic Stress Network - Parent/Caregiver Guide to Helping Families Cope with the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (English, Spanish, and Chinese versions available).
American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry - Talking to Children About Coronavirus