#overCOVID: Mental Health
We are living through a lot right now, and it’s taking a toll on all of our mental health. From lost jobs, to lost lives, to housing and food insecurity, to being employee-teacher-and-parent, to caring for sick family, this epidemic affects all aspects of life. For many of us, this experience is traumatic. Some of us are risking our lives and the health of our families for a paycheck, those of us working from home may have only seen the same couple of people in-person for the past 5 months, and those of us who have health conditions are under more stress than usual while being isolated. And that’s just the big stuff. The impact of COVID on mental health shows up in a lot of little ways too—from increased levels of anxiety and depression, to higher levels of stress and fewer outlets available for healthy coping.
How has COVID impacted mental health?
We’re all struggling in some way. While life has returned to (mostly) normal for people in Europe and other parts of the world, the US is still struggling with rising cases, social isolation precautions, and a whole lot of unknowns.
70% of Americans are significantly stressed about the economy
33% of Americans display signs of clinical depression and anxiety
55% of people experiencing financial stress show signs of clinical depression and anxiety
People are 2x as likely to be nervous or anxious most of the time right now, compared to 2018
A federal emergency distress hotline run by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration saw calls increase by over 1,000%
Social isolation, even pre-COVID, contributes to elevated blood pressure, cortisol spikes, declines in cognitive performance, and disrupted sleep patterns. Pre-COVID, loneliness was a growing epidemic in the United States, especially among people who live alone and the elderly. And based on past research with survivors of disease outbreaks, people who have been affected by COVID are likely to experience PTSD.
Why is mental health during COVID so important?
Well, for one, because over 5 million people have lost their health insurance since the pandemic started, including their access to therapy, prescriptions, and other mental health treatment options. For another, because loneliness and social isolation have quantifiable health impacts which can put high-risk folks in an even worse position.
Pre-COVID, 43% of people over the age of 60 reported feeling lonely. With social isolation measures to protect their health, this loneliness will just get worse.
So, how can I help with the COVID mental health crisis?
There’s a lot you can do. The best thing to do is to make sure your own mind is in a good spot. Then you will be in a place to lend support to others.
Boost your own mental health
No matter what you’re feeling, there are a few things that we can all do to help:
- Take 5 deep breaths. Count to 10 on the inhale, hold it, then count to 10 as you exhale.
- Write down what you’re feeling. Naming your emotions and putting your thoughts on paper is cathartic, and it can help you figure out how to cope.
- Take a walk. Everyone told us to do this at the beginning of lockdown, but it’s just as important now that we’re a few months in. Carve out 15 min of your day for a stroll around the block.
- Express gratitude. Even though a lot of things aren’t great right now, there’s still a lot of things that are amazing.
- Do something that makes you feel like yourself. Are you an extravert? Organize a socially-distant picnic with friends. Introverted? Set up a cozy space and dive into a good book or listen to an album all the way through. Outdoorsy? Most parks are open, mask up and go hike! Gym rat? Go for a run, and then do body-weight circuits for an extra pump.
- Try online therapy if you need it, or call a hotline. Please, if you are feeling helpless, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Contact local therapists/providers on your insurance plan to see if they offer online options, or use a service like Talkspace.
Help your friends and family with their mental health
- CALL YOUR GRANDPARENTS (and any other high-risk people in your life). AT LEAST 1x PER WEEK. Seriously. Trust us. They’ll love you for it, and it’s a really small way to have a big impact on their mood and their mental health.
- Write letters, and include pictures or drawings. Because we all need to support the USPS, but also because having something to hold, look at, and re-read helps us feel connected to each other.
- Pay attention to your friends and family members. This means that you need to really be present. Do they seem down? Are they more distant? Have they dropped hints that they’re not doing great? Reach out, and just listen, be there, and support them.
- Relieve stress where you can. Does going to the grocery store cause anxiety for a family member? Mask up, take their list or video chat them, and be their personal shopper. Have someone in your life who could use extra cash? Offer to fill up their gas tank, buy a week’s worth of groceries, or send them a check to use however they need.
Volunteer and donate to help mental health causes during COVID
- Volunteer with local mental health organizations on POINT. Download the app for iOS or Android and sign up with a tap!
- Donate to a community behavioral health center in your city. Congress only allocated a small portion of COVID relief funding to mental health services, and community behavioral health centers serve some of the most at-risk populations, but are struggling to keep their doors open.
- Volunteer your skills. If you’re a web designer, reach out to community behavioral health centers and see if they could use a landing page for virtual treatment options, or if you can help with SEO to give them better visibility. If you’re a people person, ask if you can talk to residents and pass out flyers for their services in local neighborhoods.
Remember, we can all help our communities get #overCOVID and heal. Be kind to your mind, and be sure to check in on people. We may be a few months in, but the mental health effects of this collective crisis are far-reaching and will continue to impact us in the months to come.
Mask up, get out there, and do more good.
Seriously, wear a mask, like, all the time.