MENTAL HEALTH AND THE CORONAVIRUS
• May 2020 •
From Juan Navarro, Executive Director
Los Angeles Centers for Alcohol and Drug Abuse
Mental Health and the Coronavirus
Social distancing and the shutdown of normal life is critical to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, but it has consequences for community mental health and well-being, especially for people in behavioral health recovery. Since isolation is just not compatible with good mental health, many of us have increased stress now. Major concerns during this time include family dysfunction, economic problems, anxiety, clinical depression, suicidal thoughts, disordered eating patterns, substance use relapse, and other addictive behaviors. Add to that the endless emails offering drinks – one steakhouse is advertising a “Home School Cocktail Sanity Special” with a free side order of Mac and Cheese for the kids. We’re all just trying to survive, but it’s not easy.
Almost all of the attention has been focused on IC units, pressure on the hospitals, and flattening the curve, but our mental health is important, too. Mental health clinicians are often the primary point of contact with the broader healthcare system for people with serious mental illnesses. L.A. CADA clinicians are first responders to the COVID-19 pandemic for many of these individuals. They have a few recommendations for a “Sanity Special”, themselves. This includes: 1) maintain a daily routine; 2) practice some of form of exercise every day; 3) Force yourself to put down the cookies and chips, and eat more healthy foods; 4) Limit screen time, but stay busy; 5) Relax with deep breathing, yoga, reading, artwork; music, or crafts; and 6) Develop positive thoughts, such as “this will pass” and “I’m grateful for ….”, then, 7) Do something for somebody else each day.
And to maintain the human connection, there are resources to help:
- The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) released a COVID-19 Resource and Information Guide that takes a deep-dive into the major issues people are facing, including anxiety, feeling isolated and alone, finding a therapist to work with online, support for caretakers, and more.
- Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is offering virtual meetings, phone calls, and emails during the COVID-19 crisis.
- Narcotics Anonymous (NA) has meetings online and by phone while their in-person meetings are temporarily shut down.
- Receive regular messages on how to help yourself and your loved ones: Text COVID to 55753 to get started.
- Sign up for a free alcohol text messaging program to help you reduce or abstain. Text REDUCE to 55753 to get started.
“This COVID virus has affected me in treatment because I have more anxiety and phobias. I already had a huge fear of death. You know, I was on drugs for so long that I saw – and sometimes still see – people as trying to hurt me, to kill me. When I go out to the doctor or other appointments, I see that other people are just not like that and it makes me unhappy how I am. The program helps me remember to take deep breathes when I feel that kind of anxiety. And I trust God. In treatment I have learned to give my anxiety to God, and it helps. Thank God. You know, I’m just so sorry for how stupid I was, the stupid things I did when I was high on drugs and alcohol. Now that I am sober, I’m becoming a beautiful person. I want people to see this brand new me.”
SPOTLIGHT – THE EVIDENCE IS IN:
Technology and Coronavirus
Social distancing has kept us physically separated, but technology has led to more connection than ever. Texts, emails, Zoom/video chats, tweets, and live news conferences are at an all-time high. Internet hits have surged by up to 70%, and streaming has jumped by at least 30% worldwide. The ability to connect online may seem like a good thing, yet there is a potential cost: Our relationship with technology may be negatively affecting our mental, emotional, and physical well-being.
If you find yourself numbing or distracting yourself with technology, you may have become stuck in a vicious cycle of unhealthy behavior and emotional distress. This includes binge-watching movies and TV, incessantly watching and reading news focused on the pandemic. These activities perpetuate anxiety and depression. Another form of compulsive behavior that has surged during this time is online shopping, especially for items you may not even need. Plus, staying up late to engage in these online behaviors doesn’t allow the body to fully rest and recover — both are crucial to well-being, especially in the COVID-19 crisis.
Consider ways to be a more discerning consumer of technology in terms of purpose, content, and frequency, with the goal of mental and emotional health. Examples may be reaching out to others online for support. Or engaging in activities that promote a sense of purpose and meaning, as well as relaxation. And using news sources that provide up-to-date, scientifically sound information based on the best available research.
Read about reducing technology dependence: Tech Detox