Everyone will feel anxious at some point during the COVID-19 crisis, and that’s OK.
But anxiety, depression, stress and substance dependency will be worse for some than others, said Michelle Rose-Barajas, psychologist and manager at Mercyhealth Behavioral Health Clinic.
Staying connected, being educated, making plans and identifying signs of mental health conditions will be key in helping everyone through the dark and uncertain time, Rose-Barajas said.
The potential for increased suicides, incidents of domestic violence, substance abuse and child abuse during the pandemic is high, Rose-Barajas said.
Janesville Police Chief Dave Moore said there was no immediate spike in such incidents in the initial days of the pandemic, but he is aware that could change.
Moore has dedicated a group of officers to work off-site during the pandemic to support patrol officers in these incidents, he said.
Rock County Human Services is continuing to deliver essential mental health services during the pandemic, said Kate Luster, human services director.
The county is working to adapt many of its services to be done remotely to prevent the spread of disease, Luster said in an email to The Gazette.
“Crisis intervention continues to be available 24 hours a day, and our many other behavioral health programs have been working diligently to assure that client needs are assessed and met in an ongoing way,” Luster said.
Mercyhealth is continuing emergency services for people experiencing mental health crises, Rose-Barajas said.
Regular mental health services are also continuing, but many providers are using over-the-phone services or telehealth to promote social distancing.
Rose-Barjas encourages everyone who receives mental health care to reach out to their providers and create a plan to continue services.
There are a lot of factors at the forefront of the pandemic that are likely to lead to negative mental health outcomes including isolation; fear for the health of yourself and others; financial insecurity; and job loss, Rose-Barajas said.
Anxiety is a normal emotion that serves a purpose, Rose-Barajas said.
Anxiety activates people to prepare or protect their selves in times of danger or stress, Rose-Barajas said.
It is important to distinguish between healthy and unhealthy anxiety. When anxiety leads to overgeneralized, negative thoughts, it is no longer helpful, Rose-Barajas said.
Those feelings are what prompted many people to hoard toilet paper and bottled water— two items that are not needed in excess for this kind of disaster, Rose-Barajas said.
Constant worrying about the worst-case scenarios is a sign of negative anxiety.
It is important to stay informed on the issues surrounding COVID-19 to mitigate fears of the unknown, Rose-Barajas said.
But it is also important to limit exposure to avoid feeling overwhelmed.
Rose-Barajas recommends getting information from reliable sources instead of social media. Limiting social media intake can, in general, ease some people’s worries.
“Distraction is important rather than allowing feelings to sit and ruminate,” Rose-Barajas said.
Watching a movie, reading a book, reaching out to friends or doing anything enjoyable is necessary to prevent anxiety from building.
Depression and suicide
It is important to maintain a sense of purpose during this time, Rose-Barajas said.
People who are out of work can continue to feel that by setting goals, trying new things and staying productive.
Staying connected to people is essential. People should be aware of signs of depression and suicidal ideations to help those who might be struggling, Rose-Barajas said.
Changes in sleeping, eating, mood and decreased interest in normal activities are signs of depression as well as irritation, outbursts, feeling of worthlessness, guilt, frequent thoughts of death and trouble concentrating.
Everyone needs to be aware of alcohol and drug intake, especially while social distancing, Rose-Barajas said.
Those suffering from addiction or in recovery will have difficulties resisting substance use. Rose-Barajas encourages people to reach out to those with addiction and help those people find online support groups.
People who drink alcohol occasionally might find themselves drinking more frequently or using alcohol to help them relax, Rose-Barajas said.Having coping tools such as journaling, meditation, exercise and other activities can help people avoid becoming dependent on alcohol.
People working in health care or other essential fields might experience depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder during or after the pandemic, Rose-Barajas said.
Studies have shown Chinese health care workers reported substantially elevated levels of mental health issues since COVID-19 began, Rose Barajas said.
“When things calm down and we are on the other side, that is time when a lot of these people will get out of crisis mode and then they might experience symptoms,” Rose-Barajas said. “A lot of it you will see after the fact for first responders.”
Establishing boundaries between work and personal life will help people get away from some of the feelings surrounding COVID-19, Rose-Barajas said. Mercyhealth is continuing its employee assistance program, which helps workers connect with mental health services anonymously, Rose-Barajas said.