May is Mental Health Awareness Month
While one in five people in the U.S. will experience a mental illness during their lifetime, right now, we are all facing unique challenges that are impacting our mental health. Sheltering in place, social isolation, loss of income, or a job, are the devastating fallout and effects from an already uncertain and anxiety-filled time since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
Americans are struggling with mental health during the COVID-19 closures and many are turning to unhealthy habits to cope. In a University of Michigan study that began a week after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic, 28 percent of respondents said they used alcohol or drugs to feel better. More than 50 percent of people reported symptoms of anxiety every day or several days a week.
May is Mental Health Month and considering what is happening in our world, there is no better time to proactively prioritize our mental wellness.
Recognize the signs and take control
The first step to take control of our mental state is to recognize the signs that how we are dealing with the present circumstances, our coping mechanisms, are no longer working.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), here’s what stress during an infectious disease outbreak can look like:
- Fear and worry about your own health and the health of your loved ones
- Changes in sleeping or eating habits
- Difficulty sleeping or concentrating
- Worsening of chronic health problems
- Increased use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs
You may not be able to control the virus, but you can help control your emotional reaction to it. Here are some strategies to help you manage your anxiety.
Stay connected. While many are physically separated from friends and loved ones, we are fortunate to have several means to still stay connected. Of course, there is Skype, Facebook, Zoom, and other great tech tools that are a click away. But even a simple phone rotation list of 10 to 15 people to commit to calling weekly is not only good for the recipient but will help you as well to stay in touch. Be sure to include those you may not normally speak to on a regular basis and those who may be especially isolated right now.
Get a routine. Lives have been turned upside down and we’ve lost the comfort of daily routines. Some are working more than ever, and others have reduced hours or lost their jobs altogether. If you haven’t been in one, begin to set a regular schedule by getting up at a set time, plan time for household chores and exercise, and other things. The benefit a routine brings is it provides us with a sense of normal and control when things feel so out of control.
Practice gratitude. Science has shown that people who practice gratitude are happier and more optimistic — and you can easily teach yourself how to do it. It’s easy to dwell on the negative, but it takes a conscious effort to focus on what is good. Take time to quiet yourself and think about what you’re most grateful for each day.
Reach out for help. If your stress reactions are interfering with your life for two weeks in a row or longer, call your healthcare provider. It is important to note that while many businesses are temporarily closed at this time, behavioral health centers, such as Community Care Services in Lincoln Park is open, providing online virtual TeleHealth therapy and accepting new consumers and has been designated one of two Urgent Behavioral Health Care Services Provider for Wayne County by the Detroit Wayne Integrated Health Center.
Helping children cope
While binge-watching Netflix, eating fast food, and living in pajamas has trended across social media, it actually creates more anxiety and encourages children and teens to resist returning to previous expectations. As we continue to feel cut off and drift from daily habits, underlying or preexisting challenges such as depression, suicidal thoughts, trauma, panic, mood disorders, and substance abuse can become barriers to wellbeing.
Not all children and teens respond to stress in the same way. Look for any of these common changes in your child:
- Excessive crying or irritation in younger children
- Returning to behaviors they have outgrown (for example, toileting accidents or bedwetting)
- Excessive worry or sadness
- Unhealthy eating or sleeping habits
- Irritability and “acting out” behaviors in teens
Children and teens react, in part, to what they see from the adults around them. When parents and caregivers deal with the COVID-19 calmly and confidently, they can provide the best support for their children. Parents can be more reassuring to others around them, especially children if they are better prepared.
Similar to being on a boat, rough water can make even the most seasoned sailor sick to their stomach. Focusing on the horizon is to seasickness what returning to a routine is for good mental health. Make daily expectations for yourself and the family to wake at a reasonable time, shower, dress for the day, clean the home, prepare and cook meals, exercise, read, communicate with teachers, coworkers, and respond to emails and phone calls. Try to save evenings and the weekend for gaming, movies, TV, and outdoor activities.
Although many schools have advocated that students will not be penalized for incomplete work, a six-month break from school is outside the norm and opens the door for behavioral problems. At the very least, set aside an hour or two each day of the week to help your school-age child complete homework. At this point, most school districts have provided some type of on-line learning curriculum or sent home packets. For distracted or resistant learners, build in breaks, snacks, and get creative with learning to keep them engaged.
Community Care Services is here to listen, to offer hope and a path forward for those who are struggling with addiction and mental health issues. Reach out by visiting www.comcareserv.org or calling 313-389-7500.
Laura Boros, MA LLP, has been a master-level psychologist in the downriver area for the past 14 years and has been with Community Care Services since 2014 where she currently serves as the School and Home-Based Program Manager.
Susan Kozak, LMSW, has been a licensed social worker for the past 35 years and currently serves as the executive director of Community Care Services, a position she has held since 2011.