Coronavirus: Advocates say self-care, support during stay-at-home orders key
In a time of “stay at home” orders and potential quarantine because of the new coronavirus pandemic, people are feeling stress and anxiety.
Those battling mental illness may be even more vulnerable to feeling overwhelmed, depressed and alone, said Laurie Emerson, the executive director of Vermont’s branch of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).
For people who are battling mental illness, connection with a support system and sticking to routine are key, Emerson said. The spread of COVID-19, and the accompanying attempts at mitigating that spread, are changing the way people stay connected and healthy.
“It’s affecting everybody’s mental health,” Emerson said, speaking about people generally. “They’re experiencing so much more stress and anxiety, which could lead to depression.”
Emerson encouraged people to find coping mechanisms to help lessen feelings of stress and anxiety during the unprecedented circumstances created by the COVID-19 pandemic.
COVID-19 is the official name of the disease related to the coronavirus that first started to affect people in China at the end of 2019.
Symptoms of COVID-19 can include fever, cough and breathing trouble. Most develop only mild symptoms. But some people, usually those with other medical complications, develop more severe symptoms, including pneumonia, which can be fatal.
Advocates: Practice self-care and find coping strategies
Emerson had the following advice:
- “Get back to the basics” when practicing self-care: get proper sleep, eat well, and exercise.
- Disconnect from television or social media to avoid getting overwhelmed by all of the news about COVID-19.
- Know triggers and have coping mechanisms to avoid giving in to anxiety.
- Connect with a support system.
- Practice mindfulness and meditation.
- Stick to a routine. The way a person goes about their routine will likely change under the “stay home” order, but technology can help maintain some aspects of the routine.
Finding togetherness while apart
While health officials have warned against physical nearness during the pandemic, technology makes it possible to find other ways of connecting socially, Emerson said. During the pandemic, people all over the world have come up with creative ways to build community on the internet, such as having virtual dance parties, exercise classes, and discussions about certain topics.
Checking in with people who may be more vulnerable to feeling anxious or depressed is important, both advocates said. Tarallo offered some ways that loved ones can continue to show support through phone or video chats in regular check-ins:
- Ask: “How are you doing today?”; “On a scale of 1-5, how happy or sad do you feel today?”; “What are your challenges today?”
- Tell them you care about them.
- Express concerns and offer observations of what you see, if there are any red flag behaviors.
- Request: Speaking kindly, but firmly and clearly, without unnecessary emotion or sarcasm, “Will you tell me when you are sad or feeling like you would hurt yourself?”
Walking outside and communicating with people while six feet apart is also a way people can continue feeling connected, Emerson said.
Spot the warning signs for suicide
The Vermont Suicide Prevention Center said a number of warning signs can signal if a person is at risk of suicide or is in crisis.
Critical warning signs:
- Talking or writing about death, dying or suicide.
- Threatening suicide or expressing a strong wish to die.
- Looking for ways to die by suicide.
Other warning signs:
- A sense of hopelessness.
- Previous suicide attempts.
- Rage, anger or a desire for revenge.
- Withdrawal from activities once considered enjoyable.
- Dramatic mood swings.
- Increased substance abuse.
- Feeling trapped.
People who spot these signs should keep the person away from guns, drugs, alcohol or anything else they may use to harm themselves, the center said. If a person is in crisis, call 911.
Where to get help
People who find they need extra help can reach out to advocates or to their doctors. Many doctors are still conducting appointments remotely through the telephone or other telemedicine methods.
- The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) 24-hour hotline: 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUS at 66746
- Crisis Text Line: Text HELP to 741741
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
- Disaster Distress Helpline: 1-800-985-5990